A Letter to My Replacement

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Dear you,

I hope you know how lucky you are to work with these amazing kids everyday. I hope that even when you’re stressed and tired and angry that you will remember these are the best kids you’ll ever meet. Take a step back and remember that when times get tough.

I hope you know that the music room is a safe place, open to all hearts. Students come here to feel safe, regardless of their sexuality, their social status, the amount of money their parents have. Students find a safe haven regardless of their gender, their weight, the color of their skin. This is a hideaway from the world where people are just people; all special and unique and beautiful.

I hope you know that this is a place for second chances. The sins of yesterday are forgiven and grudges are dissolved. Every morning presents a new opportunity for something amazing; each day is full of promise and wonder and magic.

I hope you know that this room has been a world of new beginnings for so many. People have found passions and success and teamwork and friends in ways they never have before, within these four walls. People have found their voice and their drive and their strength in this very room, the room where you are so fortunate to teach.

I hope you know that these students do not love unconditionally, but when you have won their hearts, they love hard and with an unmatched ferocity. When they have become vulnerable enough with you to love you, they will defend you against all odds. They don’t love easy, but they love hard and they love big.

I hope you know that you are teaching more than music. You’re teaching children. You’re teaching them about the world and life and the things that very few other teachers have the privilege of teaching. You get to teach them the things they want to know, and you get to help them become the people they are to become. You get to polish away something rough and reveal the beautiful human being that the world can’t wait to meet.

I hope you know that this isn’t a job; it’s a calling. You’re about to become a teacher, parent, cheerleader, and coach. You’re going to be their support system and their guide. You’re going to teach them so much, and they learn everything. So make sure what you’re learning is worthwhile and special and something only you can offer.

And most importantly, I hope you know you’re about to become a student. These kids have the world to teach you; they’ll teach you more than you’ll ever have to teach them. You’ll learn about relationships and drama and gossip. And you’ll learn about wins and losses, victories, successes, and failures. You’re going to learn how to comfort every person in your room. You’re going to learn who needs you to be stern and who needs you to be soft. You’re going to learn what matters to each person, and you’re going to learn that it’s different. You’re going to learn more than you ever realized there was to learn. You’ll learn who they are, and you’ll learn who you are, and you’ll learn why it’s important to know both.

You have a huge task ahead of you, and I know you’ll be excellent at it. It’s not easy to say goodbye to this world that has been mine. It’s not easy to say goodbye to these students who have been mine for three years. I love them. I love this room, this safe haven that I’ve built. And I hope and pray that it becomes your safe haven, as well.

And to all the students who have touched my life in the seven years that I’ve taught music, I cannot thank you enough. I am who I am because of you. Today, the world lies before us, rife with possibilities and successes, waiting for us to take them for ourselves.

I will love you always.

Big Thoughts in a Small Town

This past weekend, I played a concert in El Dorado, Arkansas. It’s one of my favorite symphonies to perform in. The town is charming, the symphony is talented, and the coffee shop is adorable. There’s even an independent bookstore. Seriously, what more could a guy like me want in life?

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Saturday morning, I woke up early and decided to visit downtown while it was still cool and beautiful.

I had the best time! It was lovely. People were already out walking and jogging and spending time as a family. Birds were chirping. Flowers were standing proudly. It was idyllic. Seriously. The perfect start to the morning.

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It’s freeing to have a Saturday morning to do nothing, don’t you think? It’s rare for me. I tend to schedule my life minute-by-minute, and never leave free time for walking around downtown, eating a pastry from a coffee shop, and stopping to smell the flowers. And the flowers want to be smelled. Look at them! They’re beautiful!

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This dog was so happy to have his picture taken. He posed for the camera and smiled big. He was adorable. He made me miss my puppies and realize that I never take them anywhere. I think they’d like to go visit downtown or to Starbucks to drink a puppicino with me. I think I’ll schedule some time to drive one of my puppies around like the royalty they are.

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Something I love about El Dorado is they way the community appreciates the arts. In the past year, El Dorado has seen the opening of several new musical performance venues and is awaiting the opening of an art gallery.

The Murphy Arts District is gorgeous! There’s an amphitheater (where I played a concert with Smokey Robinson) situated right in the heart of downtown. There’s the Griffin Music Hall for indoor concerts (where I played this amazing Beatles tribute show). They’ve recently remodeled the municipal auditorium into a stunning concert hall where the symphony plays most of its performances.

The historic Rialto theater is also being renovated and will reopen in the future.

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Being in El Dorado reminds me of all the reasons I love a small town. Everybody is friendly. Everybody knows each other. I love that I’m always greeted with smiles when I’m out and about in El Dorado. I love that the people at the coffee shop are always willing to stop and chat. I love that time is kind of frozen in El Dorado; it’s still-fashioned.

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I know it’s a running theme in my life because I overbook myself, but taking the time to wander around El Dorado reminded me to slow down and take time for self-care. Strolling along the streets in the early morning brought me so much joy and peace. Time with myself to just reflect and refresh myself. It was exactly what the doctor ordered.

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I passed the most adorable little Farmers’ Market with six stalls. It was crowded. I was impressed at how many people came to this tiny little market. On the lawn beside the farmers’ market was a field where families were playing. Seriously, it was like something out of a TV show. It was like Stars Hollow. I was in love with it all.

After I’d walked around for a while, and worked up a good sweat, I finished the morning with a nice, cold Coke in a glass bottle. There’s nothing like it. It was the perfect morning. It was a nice way to chill out before a long day of rehearsing and performing.


So, in the end, take time for yourself. Self care is important and necessary. Take the time to stroll around, smell the flowers, drink a Coke, and slow down.

It’s worth it. You’re worth it.

The Plucky Reader

Life Lessons from Ponies

This weekend, I drove to my parents’ house to see my family and to play with my ponies. Let me tell you; there is no stress reliever like playing with a pony. Maybe it’s just the country boy in me, but being out in the sunlight and in the green pastures is so relaxing.

My horse, Daisy.
Daisy is the most beautiful horse in the world. It’s undeniable.

My horse, Daisy, has been my buddy for thirteen years. She is beautiful, and she knows it. She’s a world-champion show horse who has filled my life with more joy than I can even begin to describe. I’ve spoken about Daisy in the past. But she deserves several fangirl posts about how amazing and beautiful she is. And she’d happily accept all praise; she knows exactly how amazing she is. Daisy helps me to remember to be proud of myself and my accomplishments. She knows exactly who she is and she is not afraid to let other horses knows how great she is.

I wish I had an ounce of her confidence. But I try everyday to be as secure in myself–if not as aggressive about it–as my beautiful baby girl.

Daisy grazing
Daisy even grazes like a model

Life is about more than horses. And life is about more than books. But spending time with my horses and spending time with my books reminds me of this. I’m reminded every time I play with my horses just how beautiful and awe-inspiring nature is. I’m reminded that the world exists outside of my bubble of stress and rushing and racing and spinning. I’m reminded that my life doesn’t have to be consumed with woe and worry and hassle and hustle. I’m reminded how important it is to stop and smell the roses and absorb the world around me.

Mini horses grazing
The miniature horses are so cute in their field of flowers

The miniature horses remind me that the world is a big place, and that even my small part is important. My mother’s miniature horses are therapy animals. They spend almost every Friday at nursing homes providing therapy services to the patients there. They are funny and precious and serious about their work. They are curious and sweet and love to snuggle. They’re gifts. They’re full of spirit and energy and have love to share.

When I spend time with the miniatures, I can’t help but laugh. They’re goofy. Their little legs incite laughter. They work so hard to be as big and as impressive as Daisy (who is an unusually large horse). They are impressive in their own way. And they’re perfect.

Corey, the solid-brown paint horse
Corey walking the pasture

Corey reminds me that sometimes things don’t go as planned, and that’s okay. Corey’s parents are both paint horses, which means they have white on their bodies, as well as another color (for reference: Daisy is a paint horse.) Corey was expected to be a paint horse, as well. He has all the genes to be. He had perfect breeding. But, somehow he came out solid brown, save for that small spot on his forehead.

Even though Corey didn’t come out at planned, we still love him. He’s still beautiful. He’s still perfect. He’s sweet. He loves kisses. And has the softest nose of any horse I’ve ever met. When he was a baby, his nose felt like velvet. It was so soft; I had trouble stopping once I’d started petting his nose. Corey’s a lovely reminder that the best things come in unexpected packages.

Lola, the mini horse
Lola spotted me taking pictures of her and began charging me right after this picture

Lola reminds me that we are as big and important as we make ourselves to be. Lola is the smallest horse I have ever seen. She’s hardly two feet tall at the withers. She’s beautiful and she’s ferocious. She has no concept of how tiny she is and she keeps us all entertained with just how bossy she is. She runs the pasture. She is the queen and she knows it.

Yesterday, I laid on the ground to take pictures of her from a good angle, and she charged me. It was important for her that I knew I was in her domain and under her dominion. She doesn’t let anything happen in her pasture without her permission. Because she is as big as she gives herself permission to be.

Mary the donkey stands under a tree
Mary the Donkey enjoys the cool shade

Mary the Donkey reminds me that friends come in the most unlikely people, sometimes. When Mary joined the herd, she was the odd man out. Donkeys behave differently than horses. Donkeys smell differently than horses. Donkeys make different sounds thank horses. In every way, she was an outcast from the pack.

But slowly, she and Teddy (who appears later in this post) bonded and are now inseparable. They’re the most unlikely of friends, but somehow have found company in each other. It’s fun to watch them play together.

(It’s even more fun when I hear stories of Mary bellowing beside my parents’ window to wake them up in the morning.)

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The inseparable Mary and Teddy

Even Teddy, who I’m very angry at right now, has taught me much in life. Teddy reminds me that even though I’m grown, I still have much to learn. Teddy is technically an adult, as horses go. But he’s still hard-headed and stubborn. He’s still immature in his decision-making. He’s grown, but he’s got a long way to go. He’s hard-headed and clumsy and a daily reminder that we’re never done growing and improving.

Daisy getting a kiss on the snout

There is something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man
-Winston Churchill

Churchill was onto something when he commented on the power of horses. They’re amazing creatures who have taught me more more about life than any person I’ve ever met. They’re amazing, wonderful creatures. Sometimes I’m convinced that quality time with my horses is the closest I’ll ever get to heaven on earth.

The Plucky Reader

A Very Restless Plucky


It’s testing week! It’s testing week! And you know what that means! Actually, if you’re not a teacher, you probably have no idea. So I’ll break it down for you in a way that hopefully doesn’t sound like complaining.

It means a week of getting to school earlier than usual to sit in a room with kids you don’t teach and watch them take tests on a computer. And when I say watch them take a test, I mean that’s literally all we’re allowed to do. You may not grade papers. You may not read a book. You may not be distracted by that piece of dust that is fluttering just above that little girl’s head. You’re not allowed to daydream about sitting on the beach with something ice-cold and alcoholic in the hollowed out hull of a pineapple or coconut. I definitely didn’t do that. Definitely not. (And there was absolutely not a tiny little umbrella in my drink that I didn’t imagine. And there was definitely not a stack of books beside me that were dying to be read. That would be too much like heaven.)

It’s intense. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever endured as a teacher. But it’s intense. The hardest part is telling yourself not to the about the things you’re thinking about. You’ve all been there, right?

Testing is over for the day, but I still have a windowless classroom to teach in. All I can think about is sunlight, and birds singing, and the smell of fresh-cut grass, and all the books I want to be reading right now.

I’m not necessarily an escapist reader; I often read very heavy books that don’t make for a good escape from life. But sometimes, all I can think about is fresh air and lighthearted books.

Do you get this way? Is this my own cabin fever? I’ve been cooped inside testing for so long that I’ve forgotten what the light looks like. (And by that I mean, I posted this week’s Top Ten Tuesday from a Starbucks patio.)


When I go home tonight, I intend to curl up with my puppies, open the windows to let the fresh air in, and read to my little heart’s content. And that’s precisely how I intend to spend the weekend, as well.

I hope a good book finds you all, and I hope you have the opportunity to escape.

The Plucky Reader

Happy April

Happy Easter from The Plucky Reader
Today is a beautiful and wonderful day! Today, I am happy to be celebrating Easter and The Resurrection with my family. There is nothing better than celebrating with my family.

March was a much kinder month to me than January or February proved to be (old-man back notwithstanding). I read some really great books, starting with Every Heart a Doorway. I followed that up with Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison at the request of a student who chose it to do her senior project over. My eighth graders read Flowers for Algernon in their English classes, so I read it along with them for the first time. I can’t believe I’d missed reading it!

Next, I read the epistolary The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows. I’m not normally a fan of epistles–books narrated by letters–but I really fell in love with this book. It was a delightful read and a nice palette cleanser after Flowers for Algernon and before rushing into The Mothers by Brit Bennett.

After a very brief recovery period, I finished When The English Fall by David Williams–a very interesting take on post-apocalypse. The story is told through the perspective of a man in an Amish community, and painted a really interesting narrative on preparedness. It also gave really fascinating insight into the Amish community, which I admittedly know very little about.

Finally, throughout the month, I’ve been reading Radium Girls with an online book club I’ve joined. It’s such a heavy read. I’m glad I spaced it out over the month. But it’s an important story, and one that needed to be told. I’m enjoying this current movement in nonfiction that tells the stories of unknown women. These stories are important and, more often than not, are swept under the rug.

Until sitting down to type this out, I hadn’t realized just how productive I’d been this month! I caught up on my reading challenge and am hoping to get ahead in April. I’ve got a stack of books from the library to read and can’t wait to hop into them. I’m starting with This is Where I Leave You and Call Me By Your Name. I can’t wait to tell you all about them!

How did March treat you? Were you productive? What books did you read? Tell me everything.

The Plucky Reader

PS: As promised, here’s my April Reading Play List, as well. I hope you enjoy it!

The Magical Librarian

Last year, I was at the library–you know, just one of my casual trips I make three times a week–and I saw a sign for my library branch’s book club. I had recently “changed my membership” from one library branch to another and was excited to see my new branch was reading Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

So at 28 years old, I went to my first book club meeting, ever. And it was as magical as I’d expected. I met readers like me. Readers who consume as many books as they possibly can and want to talk about books and about bookish life. I met readers who were open-minded free thinkers who liked books to help them reassess their views of the world. I met readers who read and really, really read. It was wonderful.

That first meeting, I was afraid I’d be out of place. I didn’t know anybody there, and–while I’m very much an extrovert–I need a security blanket to help me initiate conversation. Apparently my book was my security blanket, because I had no trouble hopping right in. It was invigorating.

The best part of joining this book club was getting to meet Kathy. Kathy is my librarian. I’m sure she belongs to many people. But ultimately, and most importantly, she is mine. After two meetings with the book club, she was able to identify the type of reader I am. She asked me if I would mind leading a discussion and had already researched some of my recent reads to see if the library had enough copies for my book club to check out and read. And she seemed excited to have me as the discussion leader.

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Since then, Kathy has proven just how magical a librarian can be. For one book club discussion, we read The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. When the copy I put on hold became available to me, she sent me a personalized email that was very like a boarding pass for an airplane. It was the smallest gesture and it meant the world to me.

The extent of her magic doesn’t stop there. One day, I walked into the library and Kathy greeted me at the front desk with a big smile and a “how are you?” We started talking and she mentioned that she had read about a book that day that seemed exactly like a book I would love to read. The book? Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin. This is the point where I flipped out. I had gone to the library that day to put a hold on Young Jane Young. How did she know? She is a sorceress.

Two days ago, we were at our book club meeting for the month. I was on the library website because I didn’t actually read the book this month, so I didn’t have anything to contribute. (I’m a bad member, I know.) I found a book that looked really interesting, added it to my holds list, and then joined the conversation again. The group had changed conversations and had migrated to talked about books they had just finished reading or were currently reading. Kathy, the magical librarian, looked at me and said she’d just finished a book I’d love.  The book, she said, was called The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy. IT WAS THE BOOK I HAD JUST PUT ON HOLD. HOW DID SHE DO THAT?!

It’s one thing to be able to recommend books for people. I have a gift for recommending the perfect books for people. But to pluck the exact title I’m seeking right out of my head? That is straight up librarian witchcraft.

I don’t know how many people develop relationships with their librarians. I don’t know how many people feel like they have their own, personal librarian. Maybe I’ve won the lottery.

But maybe not. Maybe all librarians are magical. Certainly all libraries are magical.

Do you have your librarian? Tell me about him or her! I can’t wait to read all about them.


The Plucky Reader



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Happy March!

So, February came and went much faster than I anticipated. January lasted exactly seven years and thirteen days. And February lasted six minutes and forty-three seconds. I’m not sure how that happens, but I blame flat earth, aliens, chem trails, and MK Ultra.

So today starts March, and with March comes my new monthly thing. I have carefully complied and curated a playlist of the music I like to listen to while I read. I will post a new playlist every month. It’s a nice way to discover new music that you wouldn’t have listened to, before.

With March comes big things. First, I turn 30 tomorrow, which sounds equal parts ancient and immature. Like, surely by this point, I should have figured out how to get my act together. But maybe that’s a 35-year-old skill. And if you ask my students, then I’ve got 1.5 feet in the grave. I’m just waiting out my final days, now, as far as they’re concerned.

The asked me last week how I know what Snapchat is. I wish I were lying. I just can’t.

More importantly, I’m supposed to find out “in a few business days” if KindleScout will be publishing my first novel. The wait is killing me. I’d rather be rejected now than them draw out this process. (Better yet, I’d like them to just go ahead and publish me, but at this point I’ll take any news.)

March is a big month for me. I’m in two art shows, one of which was highly competitive and I’m still not sure how I got in. I should hear back from the agent to whom I submitted my second novel. I’m supposed to hear back from Kindle. It’s spring break, so I’ll get caught up on sleeping, reading, and video games.

I can already see how quickly it will go.

So before I bore you any further, here’s my playlist. I just downloaded Every Heart a Doorway to read, so I’m going to enjoy this last few moments of silence before life starts again.

Wake Me Up When January Ends


Look, I’m just going to say it.

January was AWFUL. It was awful. It was only highs and lows. There were no middle-of-the-road, chill days. There was literally as high as possible and literally as low as possible.

I would have killed for an average day in January.

One of my first mentioned that January 2018 felt 6 months long to him and I have to agree. I’d almost ask for a do-over, but I’m afraid January would figure out how to fix it so the highs didn’t happen. And I definitely needed the highs to counteract it all.

So, today in my classroom, I instituted a new tradition. On the first of every month, I’m going to ask my students what the best thing that happened to them was during the previous month. I explained to them that it’s important we reflect on the positives when it seems we’re surrounded by negatives. And that even if everything seems awful, there is a bright speck in the month that we can focus on.

It was a fun exercise today, making preteens and teenagers think about something positive. One student mentioned that her grandmother got new kittens to play one. One student said she bakes brownies and then ate them. One student said he got to watch Netflix and play video games.

It brought a smile on my face to hear their simple pleasures. Kids still have simple delights. They’re still mostly innocent in the things they love and enjoy. It doesn’t take much to content them. And something in hearing their simple pleasures helped me reflect on my own.

So here are my own simple pleasures for January:

I read five books.
I played a fair amount of PlayStation with my friends.
I spent time with my wife and my puppies.
I saw my family.
I played at Carnegie Hall.
I submitted my book to KindleScout.

I will focus on the positive. I will choose joy.

Will you choose joy? Tell me the good things that happened to you this month! I want to celebrate with you! (And I need to read more good news.)

The Plucky Reader

“Sometimes When You Dream,

you dreams come true in extraordinary ways.” -Jo March, Little Women: The Musical


This past week, I got to have the experience of a lifetime. I got to check the last item off of my bucket list.

For those of you unfamiliar with the idea of a bucket list, it’s the list of things a person hope to achieve before they die. In my own practice, my bucket list was filled with things I never thought achievable. I wanted to give myself a list of things that were just outside of the realm of possibility so that I could challenge myself to keep working and fighting and growing.

The only problem is. I actually did it. I actually completed my bucket list.

Because the list you write for yourself at 13 may not actually be filled with impossibilities. But at the time, they were the biggest dreams I could dream. They were things like go to college, buy a house, get married, get a master’s degree. But more than that, they were crazy things like write a book, be in a movie, and be in a music video.


The craziest dream? Play at Carnegie Hall.

So, for those of you who don’t know, I am first and foremost, a professional musician. I’ve been playing piano for 22 years. I’ve been playing violin and viola for 17 years. I went to school to get a music degree. But never in a million years did I think I’d have the opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall. I’m simply not that good.

But Monday, I performed in the concert of a lifetime. I sat on stage and drank in the history around me. I sat where Tchaikovsky conducted the opening concert. Where Bernstein has sat. Where Perlman and Mutter and Fleming have performed. I sat on the stage where David Bowie held the first concert of the 80s. And I was in awe.

And I was humbled. That is the greatest emotion I felt. Humility. I felt overwhelmingly small as I sat surrounded by that history. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to sit where I was, and not in a demeaning way. I just felt as if there are hundreds of people who deserved that opportunity more than I did. There are people who work harder and practice more than me. Any one of them could have taken my spot, and probably played better than I did.


I am endlessly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in my life. I have had more support than any one man deserves. So rather than reflect on my shortcomings and those who deserved this opportunity more, I’m choosing to pay it forward and to lift those up around me. You never know whose life you’re affecting with your smile and your encouragement. Maybe your support is the catalyst for somebody else achieving their dreams.

Let your light shine and let it ignite others.

The Plucky Reader

How to Go On a Date

If there’s one thing I have learned to appreciate as I’ve gotten older, it’s a good, solitary lunch. Growing up, I used to get genuine anxiety thinking about going to lunch by myself. I’d plan my meals around the schedules of others. I’d sometimes skip a meal completely just so I wouldn’t have to eat alone. These days, though, I look forward to the rare opportunity to take myself on a nice date.


There’s something wonderful about going to a restaurant with delicious food, sipping on a sweet tea, and not worrying about anybody else’s schedule. I love turning off my phone, opening a good book, and watching people interact. For me, no lunch date is complete without chips and queso.

So, as we run into 2018 and you’re living your “New Year, New Me” thing, consider taking some time to date yourself. Here’s what I suggest:

Clear time for yourself. If you’re married, leave your spouse at home. If you’re a parent, find a way to get away from your kids for a little bit. Go to a comfortable restaurant, somewhere with good food with affordable wine (or in my case, margaritas.) Order yourself that glass of wine if you want. Indulge yourself. Bring a good book and enjoy it.

Don’t worry if people are looking at you; they’re not. If they are, it’s out of sheer jealousy. The look of contentment on your face will be enviable.

Order your favorite meal. Or dessert. Or whatever you love at this restaurant you’ve chosen. And enjoy it. Savor it. Eat it slowly. Watch the world speed by you. Spend an hour in this happy space, because you and I both know you don’t spend enough time there. Let the worries of the day disappear, just for the hour. They’ll still be there when you’re done.

Something we don’t do enough is take time for ourselves. This world is busy. Things move quickly. We’re constantly caught in the hustle and bustle of the day to day. And then we realize howe exhausted we are. And how anxious. And how depressed. And we wonder what we can do to combat it.

Maybe this is a first step. Maybe you need to take time and schedule a date with quite possibly the most ignored person in your own life.

The Plucky Reader