Who doesn’t love a personalized gift?

I used to be crafty in the “I made it myself” sense of the word. I used to paint pottery and picture frames. I even sketch a little now and then. I used to sew my own clothes. I even made my own curtains and pillows. Nothing fancy — they were very simple. Crafters know there is a certain satisfaction that comes from making something yourself. But somewhere along the way the desire to put in the time and the effort it takes to “craft something” gave way to the expediency of “store-bought”. It’s is great for saving time and energy, but it also sacrifices that sense of accomplishment hand-crafting can bring.  
I remain, however, the joyful recipient of a handmade gift. And a few weeks ago, my friend, Ashley, totally surprised me with an awesome, one-of-a-kind bracelet, hand-stamped with the lyrics from one of our songs called “Stay”. I was completely blown away by the effort and creativity she put into her thoughtful gift. I love it so much we have made them available for anyone to purchase one for themselves. The lyrics were crafted by my wonderful co-writer, Amanda Flynn, and the bracelet made by my friend Ashley @ poeticsoulgifts.com. WIN-WIN!  

Click here to purchase your one-of-a-kind bracelet.

As the Fourth of July rolls around, the word I keep hearing in my spirit is “gratitude.” In these current days here in the United States of America, more and more we find ourselves living in an atmosphere of confusion, division, blame, accusation, and even disillusion and disappointment. I can get so focused on the bad that I totally miss the good. And though I am inclined to be a cup half-empty person, and I’ve been known to complain (say it isn’t so), that’s not who I was made to be. I’m still growing into the person I want to be. I know there are good people doing good and beautiful things that are spreading hope and love in this world. I want to be one of them.

I read a book several years ago by one of my favorite Christian authors, Ann Voskamp, called “One Thousand Gifts.” It’s about intentionally cultivating a life of thankfulness. She says that thanksgiving changes the atmosphere. It changes your perspective, which changes your attitude and ultimately, your heart.

As I write today, I am sitting on a balcony in the Colorado mountains listening to the rushing waters of a mountain stream. Blessed. Thankful. At rest. At peace. Aspen trees rustle in the breeze, and I am overwhelmed with appreciation for my even getting to be here in this beautiful place.  I have so much to be thankful for. This place is a gift. My children are a gift. My husband and partner in life – a gift. Music is a gift. The air I breathe is a gift. Today – This day – is a gift.  As we prepare to celebrate the America’s birthday,  I am aware that this country I live in is also a gift. I am grateful for all who have fought for it and struggled to helped make and keep us a free nation.

I hope you will also breathe a prayer of thanksgiving as you are celebrating the 4th, whether it be with friends and family or complete strangers. Look for the good. Celebrate with hope. Thank God for His creation. Remember that God is in every face you see. Take a minute and thank Him for the good things in your life, even if it’s just for the air you breathe. Oh, and maybe also for freedom celebrations and fireworks too.  

I’ve always loved a road trip. When I was a little girl, my family would take long cross-country road trips in the summertime. Our Oldsmobile station wagon would be packed tight and loaded down with every little thing that our Mom could think of that 4 girls could possibly need while traveling away from home. My Dad did all the driving, and I guess since I was the youngest and smallest of the 4 sisters, I was relegated to the front seat between my Mother and Daddy (back when cars had a bench front seat.)

But honestly, this was my favorite place to ride, next to Daddy. To pass the time on long drives, my Dad would sing. Mother would often join in harmony, and sometimes we all sang along. We sang songs in a round like “Row, Row, Row your Boat.” And Daddy always sang, “Old Man River” or “Red Sails in the Sunset.” He would sing a line and then we would all echo.  Sometimes he and I would sing together while everyone else in the car slept. I always tried hard to stay awake. I was afraid that if I fell asleep I would miss something in the ever-changing landscape, as we rolled through small towns, big cities, and the mountains, past winding rivers and sleepy farms. I loved those road trips sitting next to Daddy.  

In the summer of 1970, The Carpenter’s song, “Close to You,” was all over the radio. That summer, my Dad rented a big U-Haul truck to help my Grandad move from Abilene, Texas to John Day, Oregon, and he brought along my sister and me for the ride. We were probably 10 and 12 years old.

To us, this was a grand adventure. I remember bouncing around in that big old truck cab that seemed so high up above all the other cars and singing along to the radio, and everytime “Close to You” came on we’d turn it up loud and sing along. We sang, “Ahhhh…Close to You” all the way to Oregon and back. Singing and riding next to Daddy.   

I still love a road trip. And I still love to turn up the radio and sing along.  Maybe it’s in my blood. 

“I loved my life away, takin’ it slow 
Flying a hundred miles straight down Mercy Road”

My Mother passed away in 2017, just as we were starting to record songs for a new album. We had a working title for the recorded tracks, but no real lyric direction. About a month after the funeral, my sisters and I were going through my Mother’s things and I found a photograph of her from 1967 that I had never seen before. She was dressed in a very sophisticated 1960’s “Jackie Kennedy” look with long gloves and a wooly swing coat with rounded collar and a big button at the top. She had on this big black hat with beautiful feathers on the brim.

It was a striking photo and she was gorgeous! My Dad was sitting next to her with the biggest grin on his face. I loved that. They were married almost 70 years. Their story is one of love, adventure, and “sticking it out” through thick and thin. They were on a journey through life together. And the road was paved with grace and mercy.

My Mother, Kay, loved people.

She was the queen of hospitality. She grew up in a slower time when folks just dropped in to chat awhile, and if the visiting ran into dinner time, they were always invited to stay and eat supper. This gift of hospitality continued when she married my Dad, Ray. They loved to have people over to play games, eat dinner, and sing together which led to a once a month Sunday night tradition known as “Song-n-Supper.”

Mother loved to cook and we loved to eat. We were often her guinea pigs for the latest Good Housekeeping magazine recipe. During family holidays, she spent most of the day in the kitchen. As soon as one meal was prepped, cooked and cleaned up, the next one was already being planned. She loved to throw birthday parties and gatherings, and they often had a theme. She made DIY party decorations and favors long before Pinterest or DIY or was ever a thing. She almost never threw anything away that could possibly be used again or made into something  else later, ensuring that my 3 sisters and I had an endless supply of paper and string, clothes-pins, boxes and containers, bits and bobs, and whatcha-ma-call-its for crafts and art projects.

Mother loved Jesus, and she loved the Bible. She also loved music. She was a singer and also a writer, so I guess I come by it honestly. She had a beautiful clear soprano voice, and she and my Dad could burst into song at any given moment harmonizing beautifully with each other, especially on songs from the 40’s and gospel hymns. They sang together with a group of their friends at hundreds of weddings through the years.

She even asked us to sing songs about heaven as our family gathered around her bedside in her last days of life. We sang as many gospel hymns about heaven in that hospital room as we could think of. It’s a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life.   She and Daddy were married for almost 70 years. Their’s is a story of friendship and family, love and laughter, wisdom and strength, grace and mercy. I guess you could say hers was a life well-lived and especially well-loved.

“I loved my life away, taking it slow,

Flying a hundred miles straight down Mercy Road.”

– lyrics from “Mercy Road” written by Caryl Parker, Scott Parker and Ronn Chick

“And I never knew that a heart like mine could be loved by you,

But you love me 
You don’t leave 
You stay”

“Stay” was a co-write with Scott, Ronn Chick and myself, along with the super talented lyricist, Amanda Flynn. I love the retro feel of the music and the way the lyric rises and falls with the melody. This one is just a feel-good love song, and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

I’ve never used horns on any of my earlier recordings, but this song was screaming for “Burt Bacharach horns.” So I tracked a couple of horn part lines on the keyboard and sent them to John Painter who worked his magic, and I still giggle everytime I hear them. This one just makes me smile. I hope it makes you smile too.

I’m really a wanna-be gardener. An amateur at best. But it’s my happy place. It’s where I think and write and get my hands dirty. Here I can totally lose track of time.

I think songwriting can be a bit like gardening. Some songs just fall out. It’s as if the idea was just dropped there and germinated on its own, growing into a full-fledged song without much effort on my part. Those are the rare ones, and they are gifts from above. More often than not, my songs need to “winter over” before they find their way to full expression. I’m a contemplator, and I need time to fully develop a lyric – searching for the right words to convey the idea. Most lyrics need a little weeding and pruning (or maybe a lot), removing this line or that word in an attempt at being sure every word matters to the song. I’m usually after the element of truth that makes a lyric connect with the listener.

I hope, as I’m growing as a writer /gardener, that this process may get easier or at least faster and hopefully, the good ones will outweigh the not-so-good ones. (And I’ve written many lousy ones!) I think the key is finding good collaborators/co-writers who stretch me and inspire me, and together we find JOY in the process.

I love this time of year when winter is giving way to spring. It’s a moment by moment  transition. The woods are just outside my back door, so I have a front row seat to a continuously unfolding, natural work of art. I love the mess. The wild disarray of dead leaves and fallen branches, mossy tree trunks and tangled ivy lay a beautiful backdrop to the understory of sleepy ferns uncurling amid carpets of tiny woodland wildflowers, while overhead bright green buds are appearing on dormant dead-like tree branches.

I’ve been through a winter of sorts too, a dormant season when things lie buried.  But always, deep down, the roots are still there, waiting for the right moment to awaken. And when it does, it feels good.

New energy – New life.  I guess some things just take a little time and care, patience and encouragement…. and love, especially love. 

Today finds me back home in Nashville reflecting on our time at the 2019 30A Songwriters Festival. Music was literally in the air all along the beautiful shoreline of South Walton Beach. Three beautiful days, so many amazing songwriters, so little time to see em all.  Every year we look forward to reconnecting with old friends, both performing as well as attending, and every year, we make new friendships and discover new talented artists and writers. I am grateful to be among these performers and to have shared the stage this year with Lilly Winwood, Davin McCoy, Sarah Peacock, Erin Enderlin, Liz Longley, as well the always-inspiring Sugarcane Jane, who played on THE coldest night in the Boathouse EVER, and totally rocked the place! We got inspired by the amazing songs of Rosanne Cash, Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, and the high energy soul of War and Treaty.  Thanks to the Cultural Arts Counsel of Fort Walton, the sponsors and volunteers. Big thanks to the stage managers and sound guys (Thank you, Tracer!!) who help make every venue and every stage run smoothly and sound incredible. We appreciate all that you do! ‘Til next year….here’s to fresh inspiration, new songs and new fans to discover them.  

I think of time in circles. The clock on the wall is a circle. Every week is a circle. A year to me is also a circle, like a giant carousel. We get on board in January and ride that ride til December rolls around into another January– Full Circle. Sitting here at this place where one ending meets a new beginning, I realize that I have also come full circle. I am returning again to the thing I love, making music. And as I look ahead, I am excited to be releasing this new music into the world. So I invite you to jump on this crazy carousel with me. Here’s to 2019 and all that it holds for all of us. Climb on board – it’ll be way more fun if you come along.  It’s gonna be a great ride! -Caryl