Monday Musings: My Writer’s Journey

I write. I write about writing. And sometimes, I write about writing about writing.

I started keeping a writing journal for Nanowrimo during November- entitling it Accidental Music. I knew that having a month-end modge podge collage would show me something- paint a picture as it were. In between my writings, writings about writing, reflections, texts, messages, and to do lists– a volume of my life as a writer appeared. It’s like the Artist’s Way “morning pages” meets

I liked this exercise so much that I did it again for Denise’s December. January came and I titled that volume what it was: Denise’s Writer’s Journey. February became Denise’s Call to Adventure. Continuing with the hero’s journey/ heroine’s journey theme, I entitled March: Denise’s Refusal of the Call.

I intended to work out my novel’s challenge in having a non-traditional refusal of the call, and some other challenges presented along the way. I didn’t expect that it would do a number on me. You see it worked me, too. I started to really look at the calls I was refusing in my own life, and why. In some ways. I was refusing the call to finish writing my novel. I kept writing about it — writing about writing — instead of actually writing. I even had an agent “like” from #DVpit from months ago- and I couldn’t bring myself to submit even the first fifty pages requested. Why? Because as an INFP (on the Myers-Briggs personality inventory— #INeverFindPerfection.

What else was I refusing? I kept resisting getting fully and totally organized. I kept trying to change the letters in OGSM to more creative words like Mission, Intention, etc. I wanted to mind map instead of outlining. Finally, I found a template for a strategic plan that I liked. I adapted it, changing the font and colors, and wrote my Writer’s Roadmap.

I had been wanting to post on my own blog, but I hadn’t been able to get around to it. Day job, managing the family during a pandemic, generalized anxiety, you know. Refusing the call. I realized I had to just do it. So I relaunched my blog and wrote some frame posts re-introducing older posts.

Readers, I finally answered the call.

Blogged, outlined my strategic plan for life, made a budget, created a timeline for finishing my novel and went on a writing retreat– checking into a hotel by myself to write like it was my job. I mapped my story on a calendar and noted one big inconsistency and found a few more ideas. I’d considered a few other lines of research, and started to ask questions. I’ve attended free webinars. It’s been amazing. Having worked through some of the refusals, I am now starting to see the benefits. What else is calling me? My To Be Read pile, my creative projects, among other things.

What is calling you?

The world is on its own heroine’s journey through time. Is Covid-19 the Antagonist? Or is it the Catalyst? Years ago, I attended a Marianne Williamson seminar in San Francisco where people referred to AIDS as a Call to Action. Is the enemy not really the perceived “enemy,” but really our shadow selves and our inaction? Changes are happening with vaccination availability and the lockdown seems to be near an end. We are figuring it out together. We are crossing a threshold.

In the past week, the world religions celebrated the return of Spring with a confluence of holidays: Passover, Easter, and Holi. This year, these celebrations hold special meaning as we collectively celebrate the return of Hope.

Hope Springs Again

Next month’s volume could either be the Ruthless Mentor & Bladeless Talisman, or maybe Sidekicks, Trials, and Adversaries. But you know what, it could be Supernatural Aid. We shall just see how this month goes. Stay tuned.

Where are you on your writer’s journey?

image: journals

Denise is an Amazon Affiliate and as such, should you purchase from Amazon link’s above and within this blog, she would receive a small referral fee from Amazon.

Monday Musings: Pandemonium Diaries

Happy Monday, Friends! It has been a year of living Sheltered in Place. How are you doing?

Ides of March

It was a year ago when Covid exploded– and we began living sheltered in place. I began a daily digital journal which I entitled the Pandemonium Diaries. I wanted to capture the statistics, but also the emotions. I included photos and memes. I tried to keep a sense of humor. What soon became clear was that I was living in a constant, heightened state of anxiety.

Social distancing meant schools were closed. Distance Learning was okay, but, there were none of the regular extracurricular activities anymore, they just stopped. My family is mostly introverts, and my husband already worked from home. My work was deemed an essential business, and I struggled feeling needed at home and at work. My allergies flared up and I developed a cough – so I switched to working from at home for about a month. Soon I realized how much I missed my music on my commute. (80s music in the morning and 70s music in the afternoon.)

And so we began to navigate this new world in which everything was cancelled, it seemed. Far longer than two weeks, my kids would not return to school that year, or even still. They didn’t have any closure, not with teachers, not with friends. My sweet parents began their volunteer isolation. We saw them only from a porch or via FaceTime. Disneyland band trip, cancelled. Outdoor School, cancelled. Hawaii, cancelled. Graduation.

Class of 2020

AP exams and college acceptances during the spring. Deciding which college to attend when you can’t visit the campus is difficult. I was glad we had visited fourteen colleges over the years, but ultimately my son’s decision was between two that he hadn’t formally visited. (One we had been to before for a competition.)

In April I gathered the t shirts I’d saved over six years to make a memory quilt for my son. I decided to outsource this project, and the company required that we cut the t shirts, sending them only the front panel. I spent one lunch hour cutting the sleeves off twenty -four t shirts, and separating the panels. It was only then that I found peace–realizing that I had spent years forming my son’s foundation, literally giving him the pieces, so that he can in turn grow to be the best version of himself.

Memories and Blocks

And so the day came- drive thru graduation. Only one car of the immediate household was allowed. My son wore his cap and gown in the front passenger seat. We entered the campus at the designated entrance and followed rows of homemade signs and printouts of the graduates’ names. At the corner, we gave the staff person our graduate’s name, and he bellowed it over the loudspeaker as we continued the drive with 3 staff members cheering over the loud party music playing. We were instructed to park and exit for a photo op, where the photographer’s assistant actually touched my son’s face and I fumed. What the hell? We took more pics by a banner, and piled back into the car. As we exited the school grounds, I saw grandparents walking and peeking over the fence. Wish I had thought of that. We drove to a nice park with a great view, took more pictures, then went to Sonic drive thru.

Still I insisted to my kids that were were lucky. My husband and I still had jobs and we were healthy. Soon all these refunds started coming in. I started to list them. It’s true what they say about gratitude. The more I listed, the more there was to list. I got refunds from outdoor school, Disneyland band trip, and our Hawaiian vacation. I also scored a free guitar, free guitar strings, and a friend at work restrung them for me. I started calling this my Abundance List.

New Normal

My daughter and I started Project Happiness. We started by drawing designs and messages on the sidewalk with chalk. Then we delivered succulents, sunflower seeds, other fun crafts. Our favorite was Project Read It Forward: we carefully chose books for our recipients, and included bookmarks encouraging them to pass along the books to others.

As we adjusted to this new normal, we found solace in our new routines. My own work schedule was two office days per week, three working from home. I arranged to work from home on the day that my girl has virtually no classes. Then She can work on projects in the kitchen as I work from the dining room, and we call out from our “cubicles.” I started subscribing to crate projects for her: STEM and STEAM. We now have a lenticular lamp, folding lap desk, pin ball machine, ukulele, golf club, dyed yarn baskets and more, decorating our home. Dear Son started and finished watching many tv series, and rebranded his blog. I found that without a commute, I could write for an hour in the morning and read for an hour before bed. And this was much more satisfying than the endless dreary doom of the phone scroll.

Last year I read 38 books, revised 5 drafts of my novel manuscript, wrote a daily digital journal, and wrote four volumes documenting my writer’s journey. I relaunched this blog. I am so grateful to have found a writing community, and a virtual book club.


I wake up early every day, and as I pass my son’s room, I smile. I’m so grateful he is safe at home. How I wished he could enjoy traditional college, but now is not the time. Actually, he’s thriving. He manages his college classes, homework, and all his Zooms with his friends cousins, and grandparents. He is the life of the virtual party. He says he may have become more extraverted.

My daughter’s struggled the most of us. She became more introverted. With everything canceled, her social bubble became the four of us. I suppose she learned that she can’t count on others. I hope she learned that she can count on us. People don’t understand that there’s so little instruction happening right now. Advance seventh grade math meets for 1.5 hours per week. In a normal year, they would have three times that much instruction. But this year affects her high school math trajectory, which affects her college options. I do believe that the next time in-person school begins, everybody will be in the same situation, and teachers will adapt. But I really worry for our children’s mental health development, most of all.


So I feel like I am my daughter’s only friend. But it’s okay. We do a lot together. She encouraged me to get my own pair of roller skates. I am so glad! Now we look forward to roller skating on weekends. We even have some matching skate outfits. After a year of skating, she can now catch up with me. We added yoga to our routine. Sometimes we even have our own book club. It’s great reading the same books. Of course, I always enjoy our nightly cuddle conversations before bedtime prayers.

Derby Girls


I sure miss really talking to people and hugging. But I’ve found community in other ways. With community there is also responsibility. We talk about inclusivity and diversity. Please follow people unlike you on social media, so you can learn. Support Black businesses and authors. Embrace LGBTQIA+, and practice changing pronouns. (My favorite way to practice this is to sing 80s songs and change all the pronouns to they/them. #sunglassesatnight) Really awaken looking at what it’s like to experience life as an other. Being of indigenous heritage myself- but only half- I am only now starting to understand the significance in my life, and what that’s meant.


I have always struggled being positive in a less than positive world. I’ve always been the only one that actually goes to church in any Venn diagram of my social circles. Reminding my children the importance of our faith while acknowledging the general suckiness of a pandemic is hard. I’m the only one attending virtual church within my own family. But I have faith that my kids will join me again, when they are ready.

Spring Forward

As this year anniversary approached, I began to perceive that we are no longer in a stasis. Things are changing. Vaccine availability and new leadership. I think that maybe, just maybe, this is a chrysalis. And we will come out better for it.


Monday Music: Rockin’ (from 2005)

Happy Monday, Friends!  Here’s an Oldie but a Goodie- a concert review I wrote in 2005 for The Wiggles. I was inspired to re- share this post after spending the weekend practicing driving with my son.  In some ways, this seems like yesterday. But in some ways, it seems so long ago.  And now I’m the same age as Jeff was then.  That’s wild. Do you remember the Wiggles?

Get Ready to Wiggle
When my friend Suzette from Mommy & Me class said she was going to take her son to see the Wiggles Live, I said, Let’s all go! The Wiggles, Australian for silly, is sure to be a grand ol time. I was delighted when Suzette told me we got 2nd and 3rd row seats. Wuhoo! How lucky are we?

To Stroll or Not To Stroll
Although the A’s-Angels game was no score in the bottom of the 8th, we decided to avoid parking mayhem and take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Dear Son enjoys the rare opportunity to ride sans car seat, and at age 2, he’s free. Forget the stroller, my son is a Big Boy, going to his first rock concert! So, as long as the baseball fans don’t trample the toddlers walking on the bridge from the station to the coliseum, we’re all right.

Lights, Camera, Action! …
Kid’s t-shirts are $ 15 and mini light sabers with the Big Red Car on top are another
$ 15, so I distract my 2 year old with a sippy cup of Passionfruit-Peach-Apple juice (thank you Trader Joe’s) and then we are on our way to our 2nd row seats! Tickets were only sold for the Sideline Club Level, with folding chairs on the court, and the stage set at mid-court. So everybody has a great seat. Our 2nd row is courtside, so we were not tunnel vision-deer in headlights, but we are able to see the entire stage, flanked by 2 video screens, Journey style. (How many of you knew that this method of broadcasting concerts was inspired by Steve Perry and pioneered by Journey in the 80’s?) The show was delayed due to the parking fiasco of the earlier Wiggles matinee and the aforementioned A’s game just ending, our own 5pm Wiggle audience is delayed entrance to the parking lots. Screens come in handy as they show a couple of Wiggle episodes during our delay, which Dear Son so enjoyed. Also, every seat gets a Wiggles fun pack: a coloring book, box of 4 crayons, a poster, and coupons for Mott’s applesauce and juice.

The lights dim, and the toddler audience anticipation is audible. The screens show the Wiggles in the Big Red Car driving to the stadium, including local shots of “Downtown Oakland 980” freeway signs, and the Arena marquee. Dear Son’s eyes are glued to the screen. I have to point out to him that the Wiggles are actually driving the Big Red Car on stage! They perform the entire opening song (Toot Toot Chugga Chugga) from the car, driving all over the stage. The crowd goes wild. (Next year we are bringing a sign “I Heart Big Red Car”). The Wiggles themselves run through the crowd and Jeff, the Purple Wiggle, runs right in front of us. Alas, Dear Son misses this magic Wiggle moment, as he’s still looking at the screen/ stage. The third song is the classic “Rock a Bye Your Bear”, a standard country tune complete with hand motions. Yes, part of the Wiggle magic is the interactive nature of their songs. DS sits on my lap and we do the movements together, as he seems a little overwhelmed. I ask him if he’s okay, check his heartbeat (normal), ask him to do a little dance, he complies with his trademark rapid stepping in place. We’re okay. We begin with the wave (not the sporting game wave, the We Are the World wave) followed by “Everybody Clap, Everybody Sing!” You get the idea. DS has big smiles. He knows the movements to this song. I’m so proud. (Photos follow.)

Not Your Average Rock Concert: Reflections from a seasoned concertgoer
Turns out I didn’t need to smuggle in my camera under the prerequisite feminine products in my purse (a trick I learned at Wham! Day on the Greene 1986). Amateur still photography is allowed at Wiggles events. Wow, does Greg look different in person. The Yellow Wiggle and lead singer sported a new buzz cut and his hair was coming in gray. And he’s younger than I am. Actually prior to this show, I was thinking that Greg Page resembled Morton Harket of a-ha!. Man, can he sing. A confident tenor and a friendly chap besides, his voice ranks with the best of the crooners. (I am going to write to him and suggest that on his next solo album, he record Culture Club’s “Love is Love”, and a-ha!’s “High and Low”.) Other random thoughts: the Wiggles really acknowledge the super signs and gifts offered them, stopping the show for a photo op and displaying the sign & child on the video screens. Somebody gave Anthony a pair of goggles, and he thanked them profusely, saying it would keep the sweat out of his eyes, and wore them the next entire song. I’ve noted on the set list following, which songs who actually played what instrument(s). Yes, as a trained musician, it really does bug me that Murray performs half the show without plugging in his guitar. Hello, Andrew Ridgley? What are we really teaching the kids here? I was delighted when, later in the show, he plugged in and performed a familiar ‘lil ditty: the intro to Stairway to Heaven. Early in the show I notice the fab four taking turns standing stage left behind a podium that may have housed a keyboard. Suspicious. Reminds me of the “Low Effort” spot on the three tiered aerobics shows back in the 80s. I think it was a rest opportunity. Speaking of which, Jeff, the Wiggle most prone to take a nap, exhibits notable energy and storms the audience himself in “Where’s Jeff?” (a la Styx 2003), as well as demonstrates great falsetto talent mimicking the Captain Feathersword’s impromptu operatic Ode to Oakland. And I thought he was always sleeping because he couldn’t quite keep up w the younger wiggles (Jeff Fatt being in his 50s). Go Jeff!

Just Can’t Get Enough
The set list follows in full. I‘ll highlight some special Wiggles Magic moments for y’all now. Most enjoyable were some unrehearsed moments, including Anthony (the Blue Wiggle, and my favorite) messing with Captain Feathersword, and causing the entire skit to be delayed due to stage laughter. Captain’s Magic Buttons is a clever skit showcasing the amazing talents of Paul Paddick, who plays the Captain. Anthony presses buttons on Captain’s jacket, and Captain will make an animal sound. After the cow, etc. Captain does a wild rendition which resembles an extended version of the intro to “Wipe Out”. It’s amazing and long and funny, and so when Anthony, snickering, presses the button again, Captain is not prepared, but attempts to do so again in a flash, only to bust up in laughter. But he does, eventually, make the crazed cookaburra sound again.

At one point Greg and Anthony tell the kids to clap when they hear a food that they like to eat. Audience vote for next song via applause. So, of course, they say “Brussel Sprouts!” and “Broccoli!” before they say “Fruit Salad!” and the crowd goes wiggly wild as the Yummy Yummy intro sounds. Now this is another Wiggle classic worth mentioning, it’s classic euro-techno-pop 80s, a la Depeche Mode. We just can’t get enough. Let me tell you: this tops McCartney in Berkeley leading the crowd in “Hey Jude”.

Friends of the Wiggles
Dorothy the Dinosaur, Wags the Dog and Henry the Octopus were also in attendance, along with the Wiggly Dancers. The animals I don’t get into as much, but my son loves Dorothy and Wags. During “Caveland”, one of my favorites, the Wiggles wear Fred & Barney inspired fur over their wiggles uniforms. The Wiggly Dancers perform in dinosaur costumes. How lucky are they! They get paid to jump on trampolines wearing pterodactyl wings. (Sometimes I think I’ve missed my calling.) The aforementioned Captain Feathersword performs Eagle Rock from a trapeze.

Start Me Up
A classic wiggles song is “Quack Quack.,” complete with animal sounds and dance movements. The toddler audience is in the aisles. Just when I was thinking, hey aren’t there more verses to this song? Anthony explains the magic buttons can make Captain perform this song in any number of styles, including, but not limited to, Mick Jagger! This might be one of those “You had to be there” moments, but a goofy pirate struttin’ like Jagger whilst flapping his arms like a duck: absolutely hysterical. Duck Jagger was followed by Barry Gibb and by Babs, none other than Ms. Streisand.

Near the end of the lineup was Dear Son’s favorite: Hot Potato. This is a simple 12-bar blues complete with call & response, a la Harry Connick Jr. Orchestra. It so works with the toddler age group. Brilliant.

Wiggly Finale
Dear Son and his pal are hungry, so the finale comes at the right time. The Wiggles buckle up, of course, and get in the Big Red Car to perform a short version of Toot Toot Chugga Chugga. Psyche! They jump out of the car and continue to perform hyper ultra short versions strung together a la Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat circa 1990 (That’s disco dance remix style, for the rest of you). And then, multicolored confetti falls from the sky. And my sweet son is too emotionally exhausted to walk back to the BART station, I carry all 35 pounds of him across the walkway and he gives me big hugs all the way home.

Set List
I brought my tiny Hello Kitty pen and paper to take notes during the concert (Thanks, Michelle!) I even noted when Anthony played drum set, when Murray and Greg plugged in their guitars; alas I forgot it at home today, so some may be out of order.

Toot Toot Chugga Chugga
Look Both Ways
Rock a Bye Your Bear
Lights, Camera, Action, Wiggles!
Monkey Dance
Can You Point Your Fingers and Do the Twist
Wiggle Bay
C’est Wags, C’est Bon
We’re Dancing with Wags the Dog
Move Your Arms like Henry
Move Like an Emu
Fruit Salad…Yummy Yummy
Ode to Oakland
Hoop De Doo
Where’s Jeff
Play Your Guitar with Murray (Murray plugs in)
Dorothy Dance Song
Pitter Patter (Dorothy vox)
Hot Potato
Eagle Rock
Quack Quack (Greg plugs in)
Quack Quack like Jagger, Bee Gee’s and Babs
Toot Toot Chugga Chugga (reprise)
Wiggly Medley


Monday Music: Inspiration

Happy Monday, Friends!

How are you doing? I’ve missed you.

Music_mama and the Key of Dee are back!

If you are new here, Welcome!

Music is where it all begins for me. Music has been such an integral part of my life. I love listening to a favorite tune, and how it takes me back. I love singing in the car, in the shower, at work. I have a soundtrack for my life, and a playlist for my day. I sing and play piano, as well as percussion and ukulele and guitar. I also compose music, and one of my liturgical pieces was published by GIA Music. You can listen to a professional recording here:

For Monday Music today, please follow the link to one of my most liked blog posts ever: Inspiration. This is my story about how I came to discover a subtle influence in my lyrics, years after the fact. Enjoy!



Monday Musings: My Mini Writing Retreat

Happy Monday, Friends! 

For months now I have been SO CLOSE to finishing writing and revising my book.  I even discovered that with the pandemic restructuring our lives, I found two or three more hours in the day when I didn’t commute.  However, I never had three hours in a row, to really get into the zone.  I just wanted to work someplace where I could write my book, like it was my job. By the time I finish a full day of work, plus my home and family responsibilities, I am always too tired to write.  

And so I booked a hotel room by myself last Friday night.  My self-imposed mini writing retreat.  I chose a known hotel brand that was certified for extra cleanliness during pandemic times. I was originally looking for oceanfront property, alas my budget was more bayfront property and near the airport, to boot.  Finally, I decided on a location with free parking and water nearby. And so I crossed the bridge.

I’d clocked in early to the day job from home- so i was able to clock out early and begin my retreat. I listened to my Book Playlist (island songs) to get me in the mood, as I drove toward the San Francisco Bay. But then, I switched to No Man’s Land from the Wonder Woman film soundtrack for the crossing of the bridge, as you do. Why doesn’t everybody do this? It’s so magic. If I start the song before the toll booths, the music climaxes just as the bridge rises to it’s highest point. #epic

Music for Crossing the Bridge

Checking in took a bit longer than I had hoped (okay, I got a venti iced vanilla blonde latte with vanilla sweet cream cold foam atop), and of course. I wiped down every surface in my room.  Then I logged back on for work and finished some tasks.  I decided to get food while it was still daylight- I called IHOP asking if they had outdoor seating, they said “No but we have indoor seating!” Ack!  We don’t have indoor dining yet in my home county. I decided to order take-out. That took some time, and then my father in law accidentally called me, so we had a nice chat. I enjoyed my IHOPPY Hour special (who knew) and delighted that this meal would last me three meals: dinner, breakfast, and lunch. I smiled as I remembered my characters frequent IHOP in 1996.

I was able to sit down and really focus for seven hours in a row.  SEVEN!  So glad I did this.  I was IN THE ZONE. At times I forgot that I was writing.  It felt like I was reading.  That’s how immersed I became in the story. After I slept, I wrote for another four hours.

Got the T Shirt

As an emerging author, I am my own editor, research assistant, strategist and publicist. I have to stop myself from doing internet research down rabbit holes ad nauseum, if I want to keep writing and revising. This weekend I was able to really look at structure and see where my chapter breaks were. Then I mapped the scenes on a calendar. Of course, I also got some more ideas and have to consider that adding and deleting accordingly will change the chapter wordcounts. I know my book could have been finished years ago, But then it would have been a C or B grade story. I want it to be Grade A. And so I continue, writing my type as an INFP: I Never Find Perfection. 

Last week I ordered a book for research.  When I started researching for my novel, this 1905 reference book was long out of print and only available for $75 as a bound copied set of faxed pages. Needless to say, I decided NOT to buy it then. Fast forward to last week, I noticed the reprint was in paperback on Amazon Prime.  SOLD.

Lost Book

I started reading it on Saturday.  It’s a trip.  Once you get past the white colonial mansplaining. It does kind of blow my mind that in 1900 a white man traveled to remote islands for the sole purpose of documenting newly discovered plants.I think there is a story behind this book- akin to Monks in Finding Ohana. When I first started research, there was little about indigenous healing practices online.  Suruhanas were not exactly online kind of people. Now, thanks to a resurgence of interest, there’s public land dedicated to farming medicinal plants and the farm has a Facebook page.  I emailed the Suruhana in charge.  Feeling good.

I don’t know if I can go away again like that, certainly not so soon. But I am so grateful to have had the opportunity. Twenty-four hours on the other side of the bay did me a world of good.

Sittin on the Dock of the Bay

Have you ever gone on a self-imposed mini writing retreat? Where did you go? What did you do?

Music Monday: My Song’s Journey

Happy Monday, Friends! I like to post about Music on Mondays. Today’s post is about how I came to compose my piece “Be Still” and its long journey to publication- and beyond.

It was 1991. I accompanied the chapel choir at St. Mary’s College of California. This Psalm verse had spoken to me in one of my Religious Studies classes: Be Still and know the Lord. We had been discussing meditation and contemplation in this course, and I remembered the story of God not being in the fire/earthquake/wind from another course. The two scripture verses started dancing together, like a glimmer of a whisper in the back of my mind. The song came forth as a reference to several scripture verses, interpreted in a musical way. It kind of composed itself. I heard it, like a whisper.

Be Still (refrain), Denise Dwyer
(GIA Music)

People seemed to like it. I had one other liturgical composition, then, that was well-liked. Both were played at college liturgies. I have a cassette recording from my undergraduate recital. My tenor friend and I made a demo tape on his Karaoke machine in the dorms. I plugged my Ensoniq SQ1+ keyboard into the back of the portable Karaoke machine, which also had dual cassettes. Bill and I sang all the choral parts, dubbing over and over again. My friend from high school marching band and jazz band had this music printing program called Encore, which we used to create more professional-looking sheet music. (We had to place every note individually!) Baccalaureate Mass committee requested that my song Unity be played. I always thought it was interesting how my religious friends preferred Unity, while my non-religious friends preferred Be Still.

Inspired by this reception, I applied to graduate school at Santa Clara University. They had a Pastoral Ministries program with an emphasis in liturgical music. Within liturgical music, one could choose composition or choral conducting. I landed a partial scholarship and found a job on campus that would basically pay me to live there. I brought my music to the Mission. And I heard that the Newman Center at Berkeley had started playing Be Still.

I was one of the youngest students, and many of my peers had children of their own who were maybe even my age. There were of course many religious students- nuns, brothers and priests. Some were friendly and encouraging. Some were not. Once at a summer picnic, I wore a stylish black and white polka-dotted halter-top sundress. It was a long cotton dress, but it did show my shoulders and upper back. I mean, Summer in California! The religious ignored me. It was like I wasn’t even there. But the Brazilian soccer team practiced on campus that summer, and their fans and photographers sung to me in Portuguese, banging their drums and offering me gifts (photos of the team). Go, Go, Go! Ale, ale, ale 🎵


Where I had once been a big fish in a small pond, I found myself now a small fish in a lake. And I was drowning. It was a lot tougher than I had expected, mostly because it became clear that my age and youthful appearance put me at a (perceived) disadvantage. But I made a few friends, who I am still friends with today. My faith was tested. But it also made me stronger.

After completing my studies in two years, I graduated and found a delightful parish interviewing for a part-time music director. This meant I would need to find another full time job, if I wanted health benefits. So I did.

It was a year before I felt ready to submit both Unity and Be Still for publication. I mailed two cassettes and the printed scores to both major Catholic music publishers. One is based on the west coast, and they published more contemporary music in paperback hymnals, the other was more East (well, Chicago), and published more traditional music in hard bound hymnals. I thought for sure the West coast publisher would be the better fit.

The West coast publisher rejections came first. The typed letter came via snail mail and suggested that if I wanted to learn more about what kinds of songs they published, I should read their hymnal. As if.

The Eastern publisher politely informed me that my pieces had survived first cuts. And another letter arrived stating they had made it to the next level for consideration. Ultimately, “Unity” was rejected. But Be Still remained.

During this time my parish offered me a second responsibility, which would qualify me for health benefits. I accepted and quit my day job at the bookstore. (So sad to lose that bibliophile discount!) But twenty paid hours per week wasn’t cutting it in the Silicon Valley/ San Francisco Bay Area. I started temping in offices on Mondays, in addition to teaching my piano students, and nannying. I also house-sat for parishioners as they traveled abroad.

One Halloween I became sick with pyelonephrytis. I had health coverage, but no sick pay. Ultimately, I decided I had to leave music ministry as a profession. One of my first temp assignments would be a lovely community bank, where I’ve now worked over twenty years!

After about a year in my new profession, I received word that Be Still had finally been accepted for publication. My then-fiancé/now husband signed my contract with me as my witness. (There weren’t royalties stipulated for mp3 recordings or digital projections yet!) Even still, it would be another year before actual printing, distribution and sales would happen.

The publishing company officers and employees were also the recording artists. I was told they would make a professional recording and include it on the CD subscription for choir directors. God was with me! My contact called me at the bank on the day of their recording, asking if that one note in the ending was actually a G sharp. (It was!) I was so glad she had called. It was too late to correct it for the initial printing, so I spent years handwriting a sharp sign (#) next to the G in the last chord. (Even though the guitar chord on top clearly stated A major 7th.)

That first year remains my highest royalties earned in a single period, thanks to that CD. It was the year 2000. It had been eight years from composition to publishing. The song was not included in the hardcover hymnal, however, and would not see those sales again. It was relinquished to a choral meditation recommendation every third August, which is when most choirs take vacation.

But then it was recommended for memorial services for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. And later, a Sunday in January- again every third year, as the cycle resets.

Once I visited a parish in Southern California, and they let me sing in their choir for Thanksgiving Family Mass. As a thank you, I brought the choir director a printed octavo of Be Still. Imagine my surprise when the choir director not only knew the song, but she had previously worked on it with the choir, so they were all able to join in and sing the refrain. (She had come across it in her work with a college music ministry. Collegiate liturgical ministry is tight.) It had been years now, and as the minimum check for royalties kept rising, I was now relegated to a royalty check only every three years. But mp3 sales and digital projection cuts were added. With all the technology advancements, you’d think they could pay royalties more efficiently! I mean, ACH me already! Every July I call my publisher to request my sales reports. Once I was so close to the minimum, I asked for an exception, citing that I wanted to be able to show my children that music matters. I was granted my request, with admonishments which stirred up my PTSD from Sister Mary Santa Clara: “But you WILL NOT receive a check next year, Denise.”

But I did. LOL

And that was it, for another three years. (I keep calling, and I request a statement along with a letter to my tax preparer, for each non-paying year.)

But last Sunday as I was attending church via Zoom, my cel phone started blowing up. My aunt in Alaska who was attending a San Francisco mass via YouTube recognized Be Still. She texted my dad who texted me. After my service had ended, I was able to hop over to YouTube and rewind the live broadcast to catch Be Still. I was so happy they took it at the tempo I prefer, not like the slower tempo on the officers’ recording.

I wrote an email to the music director, thanking her for selecting my song for their liturgy, and singing/playing it so well. I asked how she came to hear of it. I offered her Unity, the score attached in PDF format.

She said it was the liturgical music software planning program by the west coast publisher, which recommended Be Still for that specific Sunday.

Be Still my heart.

Listen to Be Still here (click Preview)

The Power of Planning

Happy Wednesday, Friends! I started writing about Wellness on Wednesdays when I noticed that so many of creatives struggle with balance, as do I. Here is a bit of the power of planning, which has been the best way to ease my anxiety. As you will see, the way I plan is a creative, fun way. Do you plan? What works for you?

The Power of Planning. You Can Do It!

The Power of Planning

Confession Time: I wasn’t always a Planner. I am more of an accidental planner. I preferred spontaneity.  But I realized I had a knack for scheduling in college.  I found a masters degree program that not only gave me 75% scholarship, but they paid me to live on campus. Later, when I became a mom, I discovered that mapping out the weekend ensured everybody got what the needed and was where they needed to be.

I don’t belong here

This is what happens when you don’t plan. Your calendar explodes. You know what I’m talking about.

Semi- Organized Chaos

Basically, you need to write things down.

gimme one more chance to make it real

“There are two basic levels that writing occurs on: encoding and external storage. Now, external storage is the actual piece of paper that reminds you of the goal you’ve written. You’ll put up your list of goals somewhere so you’ll see them every day to be reminded of them daily.

Encoding is where things get a lot more interesting. Encoding is what happens in the brain when we see something, and the information gets transferred to the hippocampus for analysis. This part of the brain is where the brain decides what is important to store in the long-term memory and what can it can discard.

Neuropsychologists call this the “generation effect” and have found that people have better recall for information that they’ve created themselves than for something that they’ve read.”


Strategic Planning for Dummies

Everything costs Time and Money. How do you spend your time and your money?

You will see that when you reallocate your time and your money according to your priorities, you can plan happiness. 

 I am not a financial advisor but I can tell you that you should be contributing to your 401k.  If you are young or don’t own property, contributing to your 401k reduces the amount of income taxed. Therefore the tax is lower and you may even take home more per paycheck than if you didn’t contribute at all.   

Look for ways you can reduce extra spending.  Trade in books and music for cash.


money money money/ must be funny/ in a rich man’s world

I inherited a task of facilitating a twice weekly committee meeting and it used to take me 5-6 HOURs on meeting days.  I revamped it to digital archives and a conference call, and now it’s only 2 hours of my time on meeting days. 

I need outfits that take me from work to parent meetings or from softball to church. (This was pre-pandemic, of course.)

If you order gas delivery and bring your lunch, you’ve gained time. An hour, at least.  WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH YOUR TIME? Read? Listen to a podcast? Take a walk?

How can you use your commute time?  Podcast? CALL A FRIEND?

Everything in Balance

time time time, see what’s become of me

Make your goals SMART.

this is how we do it

“I want to lose weight.” is not a SMART goal. I want to lose ten pounds before summer by reducing carbs and exercising three days a week is better. “I want to write a book.” is not a SMART goal. I want to write a book before summer by writing for one hour before work on alternate mornings is better.

Now that you have a SMART goal, you can use your planner to help you achieve it.

break break break it down

Here are some questions to ask yourself. It really is like having a Life Coach in your pocket.

step by step one by one

This is really the key. 

you are the key

Use the Force, Luke.

Review and Reflect.  Rebalance. Monthly, at least. Be Flexible – move activities, postpone, but look hard at what you keep postponing,  Are you really watching that show if 19 episodes are in your queue?

My writing community does this on a weekly basis. Having an accountability partner really helps.

I look forward to stickering my weekly planners for work and for my personal life. Read more on my creative planning here. Follow me on instagram for pics of my weekly layouts.

Here are some ideas for how to use the blank pages in your planner.

I’ve got a blank space, baby

Having a personal resource is indispensible. It is so much easier for me to prepare my taxes worksheet when I already have this charitable donations list.

Here is something I do for work.

Instead of keeping a To Do List- which I found brought me some anxiety- I now keep a Success Log.  It’s like a To Do List, but Done! 

For items pending, I write them on sticky notes.  If I don’t get to them one day, I move them forward to the next.   

Once the item is complete, I write it on my success log, and throw the sticky note away.  It really is amazing how this exercise has reduced my anxiety.

oops! I did it again

Here is my Gifting Log, now eighteeen years historical.

It is a shopping list, a budget, and a historical reference all in one.  So I can easily access everything I’ve gotten my boss for Christmas, and I won’t ever be embarrassed giving someone the same gift twice.

giving you the best that I got, honey

My father in law really enjoyed a book I got him, and I heard him tell my own dad about it. So I later bought the same book for my dad for the next occasion.  See my post on my Gifting Log here.

When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

Journaling is a big part of balance, for me.  I have no less than 5 journals this year.  I don’t write in each of them daily. Or weekly, even,.  Sometimes I have a Gratitude Session  –over tea–  and I use my daily planner as a resource for my gratitude journal. Writing down something I’m grateful for- for every day. See my post on journaling here.

Here are some resources which I thought may be helpful for you.  You don’t have to use my methods, use whatever works for you.  But write it down!

Michael’s Recollections Creative Year Planner

Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach

Get a Financial Life by Beth Kobliner

I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers by Lisa Hutchinson

Organizing for Your Brain Type by Lanna Nakone

What do you do to stay organized?

Thursday Thoughts: Reflection on Frozen

Happy Thursday, Friends! I have been sharing some of my most-liked posts from before. This one saw a lot of response. Hope you enjoy it!

Reflections, Call Backs and Reboots- Oh, My!

I don’t know about you, but I love how kids’ movies include a bit of humor and references to the adults watching. Like when Leap! (in other countries Ballerina!) referenced M.C. Hammer. Or when Abominable referenced Whomp! There It Is, a 90s anthem earworm. Sprinkles, anyone?

Don’t even get me started on all the Hollywood reboots of 80s and 90s films. Even The Force Awakens is basically 1977’s A New Hope rehashed.

Join me now as I jump on the bandwagon and revisit my own reflections. (How meta!)

Frozen: My Advent Reflection


Tuesday Travels: Zip Lining on Guam

Hafa Adai! (pronounced half-a-day) this is the Chamorro greeting on the island of Guam.

I am not really a sporty thrill-seeker. I prefer to keep my feet on the ground, thank you very much. But I was inspired to try zip-lining when my family visited Guam a few years back. Follow the link and zip on over to my original post to read all about it! (See what I did there?)

Zip Lining on Guam

Books I Read in 2020

Greetings, Bibliophiles! I don’t know about you but I found solace in reading during 2020. You might say it was my bibliotherapy. What did you read in 2020? Leave a comment below.

My goal was to read 26 books. I read 38. I got away from the science fiction Star Wars novels and dove into historical romance. I work full time and have a family, so I am surprised I read so much! Once Shelter in Place started, I made a conscious effort to put down my phone in the morning and write for an hour, then stop scrolling an hour before bed to read. Also, I added some audio book listening for during the day. This is an overview with affiliate links. I may come back and provide more in-depth reviews, still.


The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. 4 star e-book recommended by my friend Dana Leipold, and by Bill Gates on his blog. Delightful novel from the point of view of an adult man with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. First of three in the series. Laugh out loud moments. I guess this *could* be considered a rom com.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion. 3 star e-book, sequel to the Rosie Project. Also very good, although somehow not as funny as the first.

Miracles of Santo Fico by D. L. Smith. 4.5 star book. Listened to audio book this year. I reread this every year during Holy Week. A beautiful depiction of a dysfunctional parish in a forgotten Italian town. Reminds me that there are miracles, indeed. Though, not always (or at all) how you expect it. Slow and lots of character building, which I adore. The audio book is like background music. Laugh out loud moments, too. There is talk about a movie – but read the book first. The book is always better. My full review can be found within my own book A Maze in Grace.


Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert Five star audiobook read by the author. This creativity teacher is genius. Listening to the author read her own words is fabulous. Feels like she is talking straight to you, encouraging you to get up and go make your own art.

My Shining Year 2020 by Leonie Dawson. Workbook for goals setting. Hands down the most helpful and effective goals planner. Rebranded as Goal Getter for 2021.

The Writer’s Roadmap by Leigh Shulman. 5 star e-book. Inspired me to take my writing planning to a whole new level. Reads like a personal life coach workshop. A must-read for writers. Check out the author’s amazing Workshop and community here.

GMorning, GNight: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda. 5 star audio book. Original tweets read by the author. Just the right amount of positivity when you need it. My friend Rachel Haas gave this to me for my birthday and I gave it to her for Christmas, we opened them on the same day, at my birthday brunch in 2019. I played the book on my car audio during commutes.

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda. 5 star hardcover book, affectionately known as the Hamiltome. Wonderful reference, including photos with Barack Obama. A must for any Hamilton fan. Gorgeous binding, a fine addition for your coffee table, or your piano 🙂

Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss. 4 star audiobook, read by the author. This book was on my shelf for a long time, since my bookseller days. Again, I enjoy hearing the actual author speak. It was unclear if this audible version was a recorded lecture versus the actual book text. It was recorded with what sounded like a live audience and even had a question and answer session at the end. Satisfying theory of the seven chakras paralleling the seven sacraments. Mosaic synchronicity is my jam.


Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn. 4 star e-book. Contemporary Romance. Exquisite descriptions of calligraphic lettering and design. Quirky odd couple. Realistic heartbreaking friendship breakup, which we don’t get a lot of.

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean. Historical Romance. 5 star e-book. Reread for me. Here begins the 15 (or so) historical romances I read for bibliotherapy during this trying year of covid-19, racial tension, election anxiety and shelter-in-place.  I first read this book in 2011 while recovering from surgery- in one day. Last spring, I was delighted to find kindred spirits in the #SummerofSarahMacLean virtual book club and we read this author’s entire catalog together in order of publication, and discussed online. I am super grateful to leaders @toallthenerdygirls and @bookish.kelly for starting and facilitating this group, which continues as #SeasonallyBookedUp.

used by permission

Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord by Sarah MacLean. Historical Romance. 3 star e-book. I loved reading this book both times. Only a 3 because it follows the twin brother of the prior book, which it can’t quite live up to. Such is the nature of twins. Am I right?

Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart by Sarah MacLean. 4 star e-book. If you think these are silly, escapist books, think again. Ms. MacLean writes smart and sassy heroines who defy stereotype and smash the patriarchy.

A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean 5 star e-book. Here begins the second series by this author. Prior characters make appearances in this layer. Our heroine was jilted in a prior book, now it’s her time to shine. This series details the women who love the four mysterious owners of the Fallen Angel gambling club. As of this writing, the Kindle version is on sale for $1.99! Use the link above.

One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean. 5 star e-book. Another non-conforming heroine story. Smash the stereotype. Smart girls with glasses rock. Also, I can’t say enough about the gals in the readalong community.

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean. 4 star e-book. Third episode in this series. You get the idea. Be sure to read the preview of the next book for a shocking twist!

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean. 3 star e-book. Took me several attempts to get into this book. (Once when my luggage was lost, I was asked for identifying items: I stated this book. It was found!) This was the one I skipped altogether on my first tour of the MCU (Maclean Universe). All I can say is that it was trying to be anti-formulaic, but within its formula. Good twist, though. And the pool evoked Hearst Castle.

The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean. 4 star e-book. Here begins the third series of the MCU. Great beginning. Road Trip tales are always about the inner journey. Heroine loves books. Book club loved this one. When this book came out, I was in the a Romance of the Month book club, and I received a signed copy as well as a limited decorative print.

A Scot in the Dark  by Sarah MacLean. 4 star e-book. Another episode. Wasn’t totally invested with this one, I guess. It’s like when you turn on the tv just because. #happytime

Day of the Duchess  by Sarah MacLean. 4 star e-book. Another episode. Strange Premise. Underwater ballroom was cool. Hope to see background characters in future books. Fingers crossed, since the author has said we’ve met one of her upcoming Hell’s Belles before.

 The AI Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole. We interrupt the #SummerofSarahMaclean to bring you this innovative contemporary near-future dystopian romance Audible original. 5 star groundbreaking audio book. I understand this has since been printed- but if you are interested, you truly must listen. It is more like a radio play, with sound effects and various actors reading characters. Mindy Kaling plays the kitchen- no, really, it makes sense. Trust me. Reduced price for Audible members- Amazon Prime members also earn 2 titles free with a Premium Plus trial.

Private Maneuvers by Catherine Mann. 2 star paperback. I only read this because it was set on the island of Guam. Sadly, I was so distracted by the lack of Guam in this book. I concluded that the author had never been there. The story could have been set anywhere else. The climax took place at a specific locale on the island (by name), and yet never once mentioned the enormous vista point structure that is there, in real life. Disappointing.

Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean. The final series we read. 5 star e-book. My favorite of the latter series. Ms. MacLean’s writing takes a step up for this series. Truly epic.

Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean. 4 star e-book. Book club loved this one even more, but I preferred the prior book.

Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean. 4 star e-book. Culmination of the series. I have to say I was not expecting to enjoy this one, because I already hated the hero after reading the prior two books. But Ms. MacLean handled it very well. The reason I read historical romance is because I enjoy a good grovel, and this one delivered.

The reason I read historical romance is because I enjoy a good grovel.



Tycoon by Joanna Shupe. 3 star e-book. Novella. Prequel to the series that the #SeasonallyBookedUp virtual book club would read for #FallforJoannaShupe. Confirmed that I am more of a Sarah MacLean fan. Glad it was a novella. Glad it was free. Glad I didn’t read the rest of the series. In all fairness, however, it is difficult to read a new author after having just read thirteen novels by one’s favorite author. I should note that during the fall I was actively revising my own novel: drafts six through eight.

OMG Christmas Tree by Stephanie Scott. 5 star Short Story. Contemporary Romance. Everything I want in a holiday short story. Perfection. This story appears in the e-book ‘Tis the Season for Love charity box set by Maggie Dallen, et al. Limited edition; link shown is Goodreads.

Earlybird Special by Tracey Krimmer. 5 star Short Story. Contemporary Rom Com. Delightful. Want to see more of these characters in a future book. Support indie authors! Also recommend Mix Tapes & Roller Skates by Ms. Krimmer. Click here for my interview with the author!

A Match Made for Thanksgiving by Jackie Lau. 4 star e-novella. Contemporary Romance. Funny. Actually, I don’t enjoy the explicit nature of contemporary romances. I had never read a Thanksgiving romance, nor one set in Canada. Asian families represented. Book club read for #NovellaNovember. Brava. First in the series. Entire series is available in one volume here.

Booked for Christmas by Lily Menon. 4 star e-Novella. Author is Sandhya Menon, of When Dimple Met Rishi and series. But with this name she writes more explicitly. The main character in this novella is an author. Bookish books about books: Voila!

Missing Christmas by Kate Clayborn. 4 star e-novella. Read in a day. I understand this expands upon characters originally introduced in another book by the author. I hadn’t read that other book, so I didn’t know. It works well as a stand-alone, apparently. (Originally published in the anthology A Snowy Christmas)


To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. 5 star e-book. Delightful Young Adult contemporary starring an Asian-American high school girl. Breakout novel for diverse, own voices. Representation matters. Also a Netflix original movie, the second movie based on the second book in the series is coming out soon: P.S. I Still Love You

Bookish and the Beast by Ashley Poston. 5 star hardcover. Third in the Once Upon a Con series, a.k.a. Geekerella. Young Adult Rom Com. A series I can read with my tween daughter, and we both delighted in it. Contemporary fairy tale retelling, complete with it’s own fictional fandom. Inclusive LGBTQ side characters. Just delightful. Preordered, got a bookplate sticker and a short story (in theory- the short story hasn’t arrived yet).

By the Book by Amanda Sellet. 4 star e-book. Another young adult rom com that I can share with my tween. Inclusive LGBTQ side characters. Bookish books about books are my jam.

Kind of a Big Deal by Shannon Hale. 4 star e-book. I would call this an older middle grade- younger side of YA rom-com. Love this author and her work, especially Austenland. Another bookish book about books, and book-jumping a la The Eyre Affaire: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde. Beware of book-jumping into other genre books. Zombie chasing may be scary for some readers. Inclusive LGBTQ side characters. Only wish there was more about the main character being Greek throughout. Pre-ordered, got the pin.

Mystwick School of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury. 5 star e-book. Middle Grade Fantasy. Easily my favorite read of the year. Outstanding story about young musicians at a magic music school. Mystery. Brilliant. Because music is magic. This book was so enjoyable, with its descriptions of music played as colors and spells. I had a book hangover after this one and couldn’t bring myself to start reading another book, even though I was on staycation for New Year’s Eve. I knew whatever I read next would be disappointing. Ultimately, I chose:


Guam & The Marianas Islands by Thomas Booth. 2 star e-book. I bought this because a reviewer said it seemed dated, as if for the 1990s. My book takes place during the 1990s so I thought it would be good reference. That it was, but I can’t say that I recommend it for contemporary travels.

What It’s Like to Live in Guam by Lorayne Miller. 1 star e-book. Pretty pictures. Not effective at all as to describing what it is truly like to live on Guam. May be intended for younger audiences, or English as a Second Language readers. No Longer Available; link shown is Goodreads.


  • DNF’s + did not finish: The Season by Sarah MacLean (YA), Tis the Season for Love: A Charity Boxset by Maggie Dallen et al, The Summer of Everything by Julian Winters, How the Dukes Stole Christmas by Tessa Dare, Joanna Shupe, and Sarah MacLean, Naughty Brits by Sarah Maclean, Sophie Jordan and Louisa Edwards, The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai.
  • Want to Read: Queen’s Peril by E.K. Johnston, A Crash of Fate by Zoraida Cordova, Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn, Thrawn: Ascendancy by Timothy Zahn, Beach Read by Emily Henry, You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, Shipped by Angie Hockman.
  • Currently (still) Reading: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman, Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View by Elizabeth Schaefer et al, Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo.

Friday Fun: Girl Scout Cookies

Happy Friday, Friends!

It’s Girl Scout Cookie season, and so this old post of mine is trending, LOL. Last year my family enjoyed watching a baking competition show in which contestants competed creating desserts made from these famed cookies. What’s your favorite Girl Scout Cookie? Tell us in the comments!

Follow this link to my original post.

Guess which #GirlScoutCookie is my favorite.