Friday, December 27, 2013

"What I've Learned From The Elephant Diet" Day # 155

Check out this episode!

"Performing Joy To The World at my first
Portraits of White concert."
It is time to retire the elephant diet blog.  The CDs have arrived and are selling.  I'm giving my 3rd Portraits Of White concert this coming Sunday and starting to think about the show next year.

To celebrate this completion, I decided to do a podcast episode that shares with you 5 things I've learned from this journey that I think will be good for you to know as you set out to accomplish goals and dreams that you have!  I'll highlight them here:

1.)  Doing one thing every day toward your goal goes a long way.  In fact, it causes you to reach your goal!  One e-mail, one phone call, one list of things you need to do - it all pays off!

2.)  There will be setbacks along the way!  Count on it.  (I share some of mine in the podcast).

3.)  You will have marathon days.  These are days you feel like you just can't keep going.  You've come too far to turn back and yet you are too tired to keep going.  Hang in there!

4.)  The transformation that takes place in your psyche is amazing and worth the journey.

Lack of Confidence

These all shape you into a stronger person.

5.)  Others will be inspired by your perseverance.

When my new site is completed, it will be in a new blog format and will be much easier for interaction with my fans.  I'll let you know when it's finished and ready to go.

Friday, December 13, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 154 A Tasty Bite

The "Portraits Of White" CDs are scheduled to arrive today.  

Not sure which bite is the most tasty.  

The first one or the last one?

Just for nostalgia sake, I've copied and pasted the very first entry of my elephant diet blog 
from Dec. 7, 2012 below.

I've always heard that if you want to eat an elephant, it's best if you eat it one bite at a time.
There are two elephants I'd like to eat these days:
1) getting better and more consistent about blogging
2) producing a Christmas CD
I think the best way I can do both, is to combine the two. 
So here I go!
I am going to blog about the journey of what it's like to do a CD project and let you in on the process: the decisions and hard work that go into something of this magnitude.
This will be my 7th CD project. I've also recorded 2 singles and 1 professional music video. They are all big elephants, but I've eaten them all and without having to go into debt to do it.
Welcome to the journey of making a CD. Hopefully as you read this, you will get inspired to eat your own elephant - one bite at a time.
(I have no idea what the calorie count is when eating an elephant).

Friday, December 6, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 153 Learning Curve Or Cliff?

They speak of 'learning curves'.  I have many of them.  At least when you are on a 'curve' there is hope that things will straighten out eventually.

The thing about a 'learning cliff' is that you fall over the edge into nothingness.  You have no idea where you will land.

I feel like I've been on the edge of a cliff and yesterday I fell off.

I've been working furiously at finding snow scenes for my upcoming Christmas concerts.  The first one is on Dec. 15.  After trying about 11 different sources, I found a photographer with great snow scenes and she is letting me use them for free.  I'm putting together a media presentation that will go with the song "Portraits of White".  I want people to 'see' the portraits of white that I see in my mind (and sometimes in my country).

I decided to not give up.  But after much frustration, I realized that I must find someone who can help me figure out how to make sure my snow images are as beautiful on the big screen as they are on my computer.  That's another story and a very tricky process, I'm finding, when you're not a photographer or a geek.

I finally went over the edge yesterday and begged someone to help me.  I think I found someone.  They will come to my studio next Tuesday and help me go through the process.  Every time I try to export the movie to another file type, the photos get grainy or too big or .....well, you get the idea.

In the meantime, I'm excited to announce that the song "Miracles" has been selected by a website that I'm part of as a contestant in an indiesong contest.  If you don't mind, I'd love to have your 5 star vote for this new song.  It will help move it up the charts and give me more of a chance to win some fabulous prizes that would help my career.  Just click on the 'vote here' button and look for "Miracles".  Click on the stars to rate it once you are on the page.

Thank you!  Vote here.

P.S.  You can vote once a day and tell your friends many times a day.

Friday, November 29, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 152 De-railed brain

My brain can get off track so easily.  It's a full time job to keep myself focused on the task at hand.

Today was no different. But this time I had to chuckle to myself.  My oh my what a trip my brain tried to take.

I was rehearsing a piece on the piano that I've been rehearsing for a month from the new CD.  As my fingers went about their normal routine, my brain decided to jump tracks and go a different way and the result was a 'crash'.  "When will I ever learn" I say to myself as I shake my head and try to keep going.

Within two seconds of music my brain can wonder what's in the mail (especially since yesterday was a holiday and there will be extra mail today), think about the fact that next week my CDs should arrive and how much work I'll have to do when that happens because of all the orders I've been taking ahead of time (let's see, do I have everyone's information correct?).  And oh yes, that reminds me, I need to figure out why my printer isn't printing clearly before I print mailing labels.

From there it jumped to the books in the back of my van that will be taken to the library and donated to a good cause.  Which reminded me that I still have more cleaning up to do in the room I've targeted all week to be de-cluttered.  The books came from that room.  More to do!

Then there is the bag of clothes I bought from the consignment shop this morning when they had a 50% sale from 5-6 a.m. this morning.  I got up at 3:45 a.m. to go and participate in the thrill of black Friday (is it a thrill?)  Now I need to go through my old clothes in my closest, de-clutter and reorganize.  I can do that tomorrow (I think as I play through the next 2 seconds of the piece) and then I lose it.  Bad mistake on the piano.

I know better.  Even after all these years of practice, I CANNOT lose my focus or I lose my performance!  I often think if people knew what was going on in my head while I'm performing they would be amazed that I'm even 'there' at all.

This probably seems silly, and yet it carries over into so many areas of my life.  For instance, today at lunch, while I was eating my tuna salad sandwich, I realized that I could also be opening my mail and see if my new credit card came (because my old business card had fraudulent activity this week and a new one had to be issued and I can't get my new CDs unless they have my new number).  I started to get up from my seat to go get the mail, and then I made myself sit back down and only do one thing at a time.  EAT my sandwich for crying out loud!  Sit and enjoy lunch with my husband.  Really, brain???   Must we always be SO active and travel so many places in one sitting?

I am determined to keep my train on its track and not let it de-rail me.  No matter how many times around the track I have to go.  Sometimes the rehearsal is as much a mental focus exercise as it is musical.

Sometimes in life you set out to accomplish one thing and start thinking about other things and the next thing you know, you haven't accomplished what you've set out to do.

What is the most important thing you must do right now in this moment?  I challenge you to stick with it and see it through to the end.  I know you'll see an improvement in your performance.  It certainly works wonders for me.

Now what was I going to do after I blogged???

P.S.  I have a new website coming and we are switching to WordPress.  In case there is some kind of technological glitch in the process, please be patient with me as I embark on another learning curve.  I hope that I can continue this blog without interruption but I have no idea what I'm getting into.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day 151 Thanksgiving Special

Hear two more tracks from the new CD "Portraits Of White".  A special Thanksgiving epsiode.  Short and sweet.

Check out this episode!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 149 Story behind "Portraits of White"

Listen in as Frances tells you the stories behind the completion of this new Christmas/Winter project "Portraits of White".  You'll hear samples of some of the music and hear the journey of how it all came to be.

Check out this episode!

Monday, November 18, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 148 Why do you do what you do?

Now that everything is approved and on its way to being released, I am practicing the music.  I was able to book 4 gigs for this December where I can flesh out my ideas on smaller stages for the big stage next year.  This helps to motivate me to put together a whole new concert.

It's taken me years to find a groove with the music I have on the past CDs as it relates to sharing it with audiences, capturing special moments within each song and capitalizing on them so that audiences experience the music with me.

A new project means a new concert template.  I start all over again, but with much more experience behind me.

I'm looking for special rhythmic, musical, message moments (among others) and pulling them out of the songs and making a bigger deal over them.  That involves a lot of planning, experimenting and practicing.  If the idea ends up not working, I have to start all over again or adjust some things.  I think through what I really want to communicate to people in each song and through the concert itself.

Last week I came upon a verse that really summed up my desire for these Christmas concerts.  Heb. 10:24 "Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out."  (The Message).

That's what I do.  I come up with creative ways to encourage love and help others in their journey through life, by way of music, rhythm and lyrics.

I met someone last week who does the same thing but in a whole different arena.

Last Thursday night I went to the home where my mother lives and got to see (and hear) first-hand why I've always liked one of the nurse's aides who cares for my mother.  She's always so kind and I can tell she really cares about the residents.

Once a week my mother gets a luxurious bath in a whirl pool tub with bubbles and all.  When I asked if I could see how it's done, the aide was more than welcoming.  She warned me that she keeps the room very warm!  I confidently declared that we have a wood stove at home so I am used to a very warm home.

When she said she keeps it at 83-85 degrees I had to brace myself because we don't keep it quite THAT warm.  Too bad I don't carry my swimsuit with me in November.  I was thinking I might need it.

We had some time to talk while my mother soaked in the warmth and so I began to ask the aide how she came to be in this position.

Turns out she had been a hair dresser for over 20 years until her mother got ill and needed dialysis treatment and then got cancer.  For years, she spent all day with her mother taking care of her and getting her to and from the treatments, hospitals and Doctors.  When her mother passed away a few years ago, she found herself wishing she had someone else to take care of and felt rather empty doing the 'hair thing'.  One day a patron of her's recommended she get a job at a local retirement home where she could continue taking care of others like her mother who needed that extra loving touch.

She applied at the home where my mother lives and got a job right away.

I eagerly listened and when she finished, I told her that I could see now why she seemed to always work with compassion.  She keeps the room toasty warm for residents (in spite of her own discomfort) when other aides think it's way too hot. She puts lotion on their legs and backs.  "I train others to do this but the residents complain when I'm not here because the other aides don't do it."  She goes the extra mile it seems.  She is finding inventive ways to encourage love and to help others.

I thanked her for her kindness toward my mother and wished that there were more like her in the medical field.  She's there because she loves people and wants to make a difference and it shows.

Everyone's work is different, but we can all find inventive ways to use our work to touch others.

For this reason, I continue working away at my elephant diet.  I practice the guitar, piano, drums, accordion and singing and I listen for interesting things in the music that I can draw attention to that will help drive the message home.

After my mother's bath, she got her hair dried, combed and made pretty just in time for bed.  I tucked my mother in bed and noticed she still had her socks on.  When I asked if she wanted me to take them off, she said, "no, I like to leave them on until I'm warm enough and then I take them off".  I smiled.

I do the EXACT same thing.  I never knew that my mother did that.

She saves the last bite of toast for jelly. I do the same thing!

I cried as I left her room that night.  Not sure if they were tears of sadness because she continues to become more disoriented these days, or tears of joy because I have the privilege of finding out the little things about my mother that we share in common.

Either way, I left thankful to have that little window into someone else's story and how they work to touch other people, especially when that 'other people' is my mother.

It must be the why that makes all the difference!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 147 All the eggs are in one basket about ready to hatch.

The artwork has been modified and approved.

The Master CD has arrived safely at the printers.

About 12 business days until the project is completed and hatched.

If you want to get in on a special discounted pre-order price, you can Sign up here.

Those on my e-mail list can get a special price AND an autographed copy when the CD arrives. Otherwise, it will be available on the web soon.

Monday, November 11, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 146 Proofs!

Here's a sweet e-mail I received today from a fan.

"Greetings Frances, just read your blog 145 and wow Satan sure has his attack force out. May you know we are praying for you during this time of another new experience. May you heal quickly, allow the Lord to minister to you in these days of why and frustration. Love the cover for the CD. I'll be sending you a check to order one. May you sense His love today in a special way. Remember His hand formed you and made you the person you are today - comparing you to no one else. You lack nothing that His grace can't give you in spite of the attacks you face. I believe He has so many good things He has prepared for you in this coming year. You are a blessing and loved! Warmly, Sue"

Thank you readers for your amazing support through e-mails, comments and for the prayers.

Today was the first morning I woke up without a sore throat and I could talk easily and even did a little bit of singing this morning to test the waters.  Still hurts to eat, but I can tell that I am on the mend.

Also received the artwork from the manufacturers to approve.  My producer gets a hard copy and goes over it with a fine tooth comb.  Once he gives the approval, we can move ahead when the music arrives.

You've seen the front cover - I'll give you a sneak peek of other parts of the CD.  These are only screen shots of the real thing, so they aren't as clear, but you get the idea.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 145 The Blossoms After The Limbs

"If you're going to climb, you've got to grab the branches, not the blossoms". 
Blossoms outside the WORD Music building in Nashville, TN

I've been climbing for over a year.  Eating elephants one bite at a time.  

I've really enjoyed some blossoms along the way - they've kept me going when the climb got hard.  But this past week proved to be one of the most challenging by far.  It's as if someone walked up to me and threatened to chop the whole tree down - blossoms and all.

I'm listening to the 4th reference CD for the project.  After some odd noises appeared on one of the tracks, we had to re-do it.  Then my producer wanted one of the songs re-mixed so I jumped in and requested that something be adjusted in another track while we were at it.

The new CD came and new noises appeared on TWO tracks.

The mastering guru said he had not encountered anything like this in a very long time.  To spare the details, I'll just summarize by saying that I began wondering if I would ever see a finished project in time for Christmas.  I had pictured an easy finish to this journey.  The blossoms after the limbs so to speak.  I called a friend and asked her to pray with me that this would get resolved.

I haven't been able to blog about it because I couldn't get into the blog for some reason that I still don't understand and it took me all week to get it remedied.

Today, I went to the hospital for a procedure to try and discover why I have trouble swallowing food. This has gone on for years and I finally decided to have it looked into.  They looked into it alright. Apparently my esophagus is so small that they couldn't put a regular scope down.  They had to go with the size they use on babies.  That's comforting....NOT.  In the process they tore my esophagus.  

I had pictured the blossoms after the limbs.......Tom and I going out for breakfast (since I had to go without food since early the night before).  But, the last thing I wanted to do when I came out from the procedure was eat.  In fact, I can only have liquids for 2 days and light food for a week - like yogurt, pudding, jello - that kind of stuff.  Even the liquids are painful at this point.  No singing for a while.

Down the road I'll have to go on to a specialist to have my esophagus stretched.  Apparently my esophagus has an unwanted lid on it that stretches halfway across the opening that shouldn't be there, along with having shrunk for some reason.

So I sit here with my cup of chicken bouillon listening to the final ref CD (for the second time tonight) which now seems to be ok. They identified the problem.  The artwork is already at the manufacturers and they are waiting on the music.

I'm really ready to sit at the top of the tree, with no elephants at the bottom trying to get me and enjoy the blossoms.....with a steak dinner.

Friday, October 25, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 143 One More Time

Tonight I sat and listened to the new Reference CD.  We needed to make some changes in the last Master CD.  I wasn't satisfied with the spacing between the songs on the CD.

It's a matter of 'feel'.  The person mastering the project chose certain amounts of timing between each song.  It's certainly subjective.  I decided to ask for a little bit more space between a few of them.  I like the dust to settle from the last song before we move on to the next.  It's something people probably never think about, but I do.  It's my project, why not ask for what I'd like, right?  

So they made the changes and sent me a new CD to approve.  In the meantime, my producer asked for one of the songs to be remixed.  Didn't feel the piano stood out enough.  And I requested a change in one of the songs.  A section (about 2 seconds long) that was starting to bother me.  My producer told me that no one is going to hear what I hear, but again, I decided that since I have paid for this project with blood, sweat, tears and money, I want it to be just the way I'd like it.  He graciously allowed me to state my preference.

So, we will wait a little bit longer until the 2 songs are remixed and a new ref CD will appear.  And I'll listen, one more time.

Good news: the front cover has been designed and agreed on.  When I get the green light, I'll let you see it.

# 25 Who needs money?

Listen in on an interview with a very special friend of Frances Drost.  Leslie McKee is a guest artist on this episode and you'll get to hear a song from her that was written by Phil Naish and Lowell Alexander.  Leslie's new song "What Love Looks Like" is featured on the new project "We Are Creative Soul" (Creative Soul Records) with 15 other artists, including "Nobody Sees" - the song featured on episode # 24 with an interivew of Grammy award-winner Phil Naish.

Between the music and the stories, you'll hear some giggles as they reveal some of the quirks of doing music.

Check out this episode!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 142 The Master

Today I sat and listened to "Portraits of White".  The Christmas/Winter CD soon to be released to the world.

Yesterday I received the CD master in the mail from Airshow, Inc., the company mastering the CD.   This is the final process that the music goes through before we send it off to be manufactured, once I approve it of course, along with my producer.

Mastering is an art all in itself and though I don't understand all that happens in this process, I know that it makes a difference.  It's like adding the frosting, sprinkles and candles to the cake.

Here is wikipedia's definition:

Mastering, a form of audio post-production, is the process of preparing and transferring recorded audio from a source containing the final mix to a data storage device (the master); the source from which all copies will be produced (via methods such as pressing, duplication or replication). Recently digital masters have become usual although analog masters, such as audio tapes, are still being used by the manufacturing industry, notably by a few engineers who have chosen to specialize in analog mastering.

Mastering requires critical listening, however, software tools exist to facilitate the process. Results still depend upon the accuracy of speaker monitors and the listening environment. Mastering engineers may also need to apply corrective equalization and dynamic enhancement in order to optimise sound translation on all playback systems. It is standard practice to make a copy of a master recording, known as a safety copy, in case the master is lost, damaged or stolen.

We are in correspondence about final details.

Right now, there are so many colors abounding in the trees as I drive around from here to there.  But soon, maybe even by the time the CD is ready, it will be just the right time of year for some portraits of white.

My elephant diet will be over.  Oh yes, there will always be more big dreams to work out (the Christmas show of 2014 for instance) but I am contemplating a new blog title to bring in the next dream.  For now, the Christmas/Winter CD elephant is almost non-existent.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 141 Sloughing

Sloughing may refer to the act of shedding or casting off dead tissue.  

A friend once told me she thought that what I was experiencing was 'sloughing'.  I had to go home and look up the term.

I think I really am sloughing.

I have been receiving proofs from the graphic designer for the CD cover design.  My producer and the graphic designer are not agreeing on which photo to use.  I have my own preferences and the designer started with my preferences (thank you sir!).  But I trust my producer and so I have left this final decision up to them to work out.  They are professional creatives.  They can handle it.  

Me?  I need to slough.

I have to admit when I saw the first proofs I wanted to start sloughing.  Cast off dead tissue.  What is the dead tissue?  




Is this the right choice of title?
Is this the right choice of photo and design?
What was I expecting?
Are those expectations being met?  (It's hard to know when you're not sure what you want in the first place.  You just know that you have spent years working on something and you want it to be the absolute best it can be.  First impressions are everything they say and so people will make decisions about this CD based on the cover if they haven't heard the music already).

These are the kinds of things that are dead skin from long ago and should have been shed by now.  Really?  Do I have to keep going through all this insecurity and self-doubt?

Someone asked me the other night - "so are you happy with the CD".  Of course I'm happy.  It's my baby.  It's a concept and a dream come true.  But of course I'm scared.  I wouldn't ask a mother if she was happy with her newborn.  Though I totally understand where they might have been coming from in their question, it sort of startled me.  

More dead skin to shed.

Tomorrow the final CD master will be sent out to me by mail for my approval.  My producer will also receive a copy for his approval.  I'll get the CD, sit down and listen.  

This is it.  

Time to stand up, shed the insecurities that still lurk in the shadows and move on.

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
The artist was sloughing, please pray for her spouse!

Friday, September 27, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 140 JOY!

Day # 140.  Another milestone!

Typing more lyrics for my CD insert this morning. As part of the celebration, I thought I would show you what I'm doing.  In the insert, you will see the lyrics to the songs and a short story behind the song. I have found that people still enjoy reading the lyrics and hearing how the song came about.

These days, while I exercise, I'm listening to the mixes and the sound tracks so that the new arrangements begin to get into my soul as I prepare to share it on small stages this Christmas in prep for the big one next year.

If you'd like to schedule me to come to your venue to share the new music this year, let me know!  I'd love a chance to 'practice' in a small way what I will do in a big way next year.  I'm already booking some shows now and I'm excited!

Here's a sample of what will appear in my CD insert.  The song is another song done in the "Enya" style with multiple tracks of vocals all singing as one.

Song of Joy

Someone asked me to write a song about joy based on a scripture from Isaiah 35 for Advent.  This is what I came up with.  Since I don’t typically write about joy (yes, I need to work on that) it was a real treat to finally write something happy.  I enjoy singing this song.

Even the desert will be glad and the wilderness rejoice 
when the Lord comes near      
then blinded eyes will start to see and the deaf ears they will hear 
when the Lord comes near

Sing a song of hope sing a song of joy
when the glory of the Lord is near
sing a song of hope sing a song of joy
for the glory of the Lord is here

Then those who know the Lord will sing on the journey as they go 
when the Lord comes near
gladness and joy will overcome and the sorrow disappear 
when the Lord comes near (chorus)

Do not be afraid I bring you good news great joy to all to all the people
today in Bethlehem a savior is born he is Christ the Lord
he is Christ the Lord (chorus)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 139 Lyrics Written and Lyrics Waiting To Be Written

Today was filled with lyrics.  Some were written down and some are yet to be written.

I started by writing out the lyrics I want to be included in the CD insert.  That's the next big step in this final process.  As the graphic designer begins work on the cover design, I must decide who to thank for this project and make sure I say all that I want to say. That includes typing all the lyrics to the songs and including any authors for the songs that are not mine.  

I spent the rest of my day forming memories that can be turned into lyrics for another project someday. Perhaps.  

That's where lyrics come from.  At least for me.  For the most part, my lyrics are a representation of moments in time or feelings that I've experienced and think others might relate to or be encouraged by.  

After getting a good start on the lyrics for the CD this morning, I left to spend the largest piece of my day with my Mother.  After a business appointment regarding her care, unloading my car of her clothes that I had taken home to iron for her, going with her to the Doctor and having lunch out on the patio with the sunshine keeping us warm, I asked her if she would like to take a drive through the country.  

She seemed extra sad today and I thought the drive might cheer her up.

She was concerned that we have a viable reason for the drive.  Yes, of course.  That's how she's always been.  Make sure everything has a purpose and don't throw anything away - even gas to take a drive together.  Make it count for something!

She announced that she would like to see the farm where she was born.  That must have felt like a viable reason.  I was concerned we could find it because some days she doesn't know if it's morning, noon or night and there have been times she doesn't even know when she was married.  I decided even if we couldn't find the place, it was worth the trip just to get her out of her room.  After all, we could always stop for ice cream somewhere along the way.

Sure enough, despite her fading memory, she knew when we got near the road close to the farm.  I have never been there, so I had to depend on her memory completely.  That can be as risky as my GPS system or my own brain system for that matter.

When we found the place, her spirits lifted and she began to recall things from over 80 years ago.  She pointed to the silo and reminisced the fact that her father had built it.  

Silo built by my Grandpa Sollenberger
I decided to get brave and do her a big favor.  We approached a newer house on the property to find out if this was the right place, though I was sure that it was from a photograph my brother had taken years ago of my mother by the old house.  

Suffice it to say that knocking on the door to the house led to an interesting chase.  A young man (probably in his 20's) answered the door and said he didn't know the history of the old farm, but that his mother worked at a local bridal shop and we could stop in there to ask her.

I decided to go for it.  We found the bridal shop and when we entered the large store with all kinds of colors and puffy dresses, my mother was totally distracted.  Imagine for a moment the bridal and tuxedo shop filled with fancy dresses and my precious conservative mother standing in the midst like Alice in wonderland.

"Now I know where people get all their clothes" she announced.  "I live at Menno Haven and I often wonder where all their clothes come from.  Now I know".  

Well, I'm not too sure that the elderly at her retirement community are wearing prom dresses, but it made me giggle inside nonetheless.

When I reminded my mother why we were in the bridal shop, she thought we were tracking down the people who built the retirement home where she now lives.  Oh well.

Our minds are a strange thing and as I watch her age, I realize how fragile and undependable our brains can become.  But she knew which road she grew up on.  That's what is so amazing.

We never did locate the woman who could tell my mother what we already knew.  But we did locate a Wendy's and sat in our car under an oak tree enjoying large root beer floats while the acorns fell on the roof of my car making it sound like someone was shooting at us from the sky down onto our roof.  

When I asked her if she remembered how she used to make root beer floats for her friends who would stop in to visit, she had no recollection of it whatsoever.  I was surprised once again.  I reminded her that she used to put vanilla ice cream in glasses and keep them in the freezer.  Then she would add cold root beer to the frozen glasses when company came and it made for a wonderful refreshing treat to serve at the last minute.  She became known for her root beer floats.  Now I had to remind her.

So there's another day in my elephant diet.  Writing down lyrics from the past that were inspired by life experiences.  Living life with my mother today to create more memories which will more than likely lead to more lyrics someday that represent some precious moments with the one who brought me into this world.

Friday, September 20, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 138 This Elephant Now Has A Name!

The music is mixed
took the best of the picks
and now we are ready 
to name this sweet baby

It could have been "Miracles"
that would have been spiritual
or "Ride in the Sleigh"
for a wintery day

How about "One Small Box"
or even just "MOPs"
"Back To The Heart"
would have been a nice start

"Joy To The World"
would bring joy unfurled
"What If" is neat
or just "You With Me"

"Christmas In Black and White"
will certainly bring you delight
and "Take Another Look"
is a very nice hook

"Song of Joy"
about a sweet little boy
but none of these fit
we just had to admit

It's been quite a journey
and the elephant's stirring
we've picked out a name
she is happy to say

Tonight is the night
it shall be 


Thursday, September 19, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 137 It's Beautiful

Today I heard the first round of mixes for the Christmas project.  That means all the instruments and vocals are treated with special treatment and mixed all together highlighting various aspects of each song.

I made some notations and suggestions and sent them on to my producer for his consideration.

It is going to be beautiful.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 136 Staying focused

A friend of mine recently told me that after doing her exercise routine, she had determined that she would go home and eat cottage cheese and some fresh fruit.  She, like me, is trying to lose some weight and make healthier food choices.

The whole group of us erupted in laughter when she said one moment she was thinking about cottage cheese and the next moment she found herself at Wendy's ordering a bacon cheeseburger.  

I guess we laughed so hard because we could all relate.

How is it that our brain so easily gives in to our old habits and routines even when we are trying to establish new ones?

Well, I'm trying desperately to stay focused.  Each morning I get up at 5:00 and spend some time in quiet prayer and study, then catch up on emails and work on music stuff until it's time to exercise.  I HAVE to keep my mind on track or next thing I know I'll be checking Facebook, cleaning the bathroom or anything to avoid staying on track.

Right now - I am trying hard to get these Christmas song files in the right configuration for Ronnie the engineer.  I had to re-do them yet AGAIN.   After that, my computer is sitting with about 7 songs that have been mixed and are awaiting my approval.

That's on my to do list for tomorrow.  Stay focused girl!!!

Here's a link to a podcast that is really helping me do this called "The 5 A.M. Miracle".

Monday, September 9, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day 135 Always Learning!

Sunday turned out to be a great day at the Mercersburg Mennonite Church for "Biker Sunday".  I could have worn jeans and leather if I would have thought about asking.  I wasn't prepared for all the bikers to show up dressed to ride!  It just goes to show that you should never assume anything.

Concert at Mercersburg Mennonite Church
I wasn't able to ride because I had music equipment to take and CDs to sell, but my heart went with them as they all pulled out of the parking lot after my concert and quick lunch.

Days like that remind me of why I love to do what I do.  There is so much work behind the scenes to get the music ready for a CD and share it at concerts, but the payoff comes when I stand up in front of the audience of people eager to be touched and encouraged in some way and see them respond through laughter and reflection.

Yesterday I hired a sound tech for the first time (for a smaller venue) and it was a wonderful experience.  It has me thinking about how I can increase my revenue so that I can afford him more often.  I didn't have to load up my van (except for keyboard, guitar and CDs), unload it all again at the venue, get ready for the concert, pour my heart out for an hour or so in music, sell CDs, take down the equipment, load it all up, get home and unload it all again.  As you can see, it was such a treat to have someone have everything set up and take it all down.  I'm hooked.  Thanks Brian Gayman!

Bikes just waiting to ride on Biker Sunday at Mercersburg Mennonite Church
Saturday I spent some of the day getting song files ready for Nashville AGAIN for Song of Joy.  The files I sent apparently weren't in the right format, so I had to try it again.  If I have it right this time, I need to re-do the files for Portraits of White too (both Enya type tunes). This tech stuff is a challenge to me constantly, but I just keep plugging away, learning all that I can.  

 Ronnie Brookshire also mixed my "Inside Things" project.
Fortunately, Ronnie Brookshire is so easy to deal with and after another phone conversation with him, I learned a little bit more.  He could use some prayer as he works on this project.  His mother lives 300 miles away from him in TN and she is in the hospital and has been for a couple of weeks.  He has to go and help care for her and I know it's putting a strain on the things he needs to get done, let alone the strain it is on your heart when you are caring for you mother.

Praying for you Ronnie!

Friday, September 6, 2013

A special announcement: "The Payoff"

I started studying the life of David (from the book of Psalms) in 2010.

I began writing songs from the lessons I was learning.

I recorded my ideas behind the songs and recorded my first ideas for the song "Nobody Sees" on May 21, 2010.

I spent a co-writing session with Darwin Moody (Embassy Music) in Nashville, TN and walked out with a completed song that I really liked.

I began sharing it with audiences and getting positive feedback.

In 2012 Eric Copeland and Phil Naish decided to collaborate together and come up with a compilation project of Creative Soul Record artists called "We Are Creative Soul".

I submitted "Nobody Sees" as a possibility for one of the songs I would record (out of 3) and they chose "Nobody Sees".
Phil and Frances January 2013

In January 2013 we gathered in Nashville, TN to work on the project.

On August 29, 2013 I received the artwork for the single - the sign of a finished song.

Hours of studying, praying, recording and re-writing have paid off.

Yesterday the song was released on iTunes. (September 5, 20130).

This only fuels my determination and excitement to see the Christmas project through to "The Payoff" - one bite at a time.

Links of interest:

Listen to the story (podcast) behind the song and a conversation with Grammy award-winning producer Phil Naish

Buy song (iTunes)

Embassy Music (Darwin Moody) Co-writer of "Nobody Sees"

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 134 Busy Bee!

I have been a very busy bee.  Buzzing here and there, working hard on a special announcement. It's been driving the elephants nuts.  Such a small insect.

According to, elephants don't like bees:

"East Africa’s elephants face few threats in their savanna home, aside from humans and lions. But the behemoths are terrified of African bees, and with good reason. An angry swarm can sting elephants around their eyes and inside their trunks and pierce the skin of young calves. Now, a new study shows that the pachyderms utter a distinctive rumble in response to the sound of bees, the first time an alarm call has been identified in elephants." 

I know the buzzing will pay off soon. There will be sweet honey to enjoy!  But alas, those elephants will be back to haunt me with more 'to do' lists so I can't get stuck in the honey very long.  (I think I hear Winnie The Pooh saying 'oh bother').

Here's another "oh bother". A decision has been made about the song with the children, that's not so sweet.  As much as I loved having them sing last week and as wonderful as they did, my team and I have decided not to have a children's choir on the Song of Joy at all.

It has been a difficult decision but the whole point of a producer is to help make these tough decisions.  It is not a reflection on the children.  It is a reflection on what fits the song the best.  Either we had to hire a professional children's choir or let it go.  Phil didn't feel the song was the right type of song for a children's choir and that using children wouldn't 'make or break' the song.

I did learn through this process that there are trained children's choirs in Nashville that work with a coach on diction, pitch, rhythm and other things!  We considered hiring someone like that, but in the end felt that the song had to be the final decision maker and no one felt the song called for their sweet voices enough to go to that expense.

The fun part of this is that the children last week got a great experience in recording that not many children will ever have AND they get their own personal recording of what they did so they can listen as much as they like.  I even created a video for them of their day in the studio so they can enjoy the memories for years to come.

Now back to my beehive.  I have a concert on Sunday to finish rehearsing for.  It's 'biker' Sunday at a Mennonite church and I've been invited to 'ride' with them.  Not sure if I'm creating a beehive or hornet's nest?

Either way - I must get back to the elephants soon!  They won't be dissuaded forever.

Friday, August 30, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day 133 Kiddos

Rehearsing the song before we record
What a fantastic day!

The Pontius children (may I mention that there are 6 of them total) all arrived with their mom and grandma to spend the day in my studio working on the last song of the project "Song of Joy".

Can anyone say "EXCITEMENT".  I'm not sure who was most excited.  The children, the mom or me, but it doesn't really matter.

Aidan working hard on solos!
I even got to take them to the local Newville diner (we don't have much else here) and I have to say I'm not sure I ever remember having so many children to eat lunch with in one sitting, while their mom went shopping at the local BB's (crash and dent store as we know it).  People don't know where Newville is but everyone seems to know about BB's.

After a lively lunch, we walked to the fountain and got spritzed by water and then on to the library.  They went home with a ton of books and I took a few myself.

Thank you Pontius children!  You were awesome to work with and you sang great too.

Enjoying a break at the Newville Fountain

Friday, August 23, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day 132 Green and White

Today I worked on getting all the files ready for Portraits of White to send to the engineer who will begin mixing all the Christmas music.  Portraits Of White is a fun song - stacked 106 tracks of vocals -
It's my Frances version of Enya and I love it!  All the vocals were done in my studio so I could focus on getting all the tracks I want for this piece.

It meant a phone call to TN to talk with Ronnie the engineer and clarify the lingo - consolidate files, set to zero, keep the pan settings and put them in the Dropbox as a WAV file in stereo separated by lead and harmony, file with reverb and one without reverb. 

Whew - I sent them off - hope they are right.  I'm sure he will let me know!

Ronnie Brookshire mixes most of my music and he's another Grammy winner who works magic to music.  Artists like Michael W. Smith, Nicole Nordeman, CeCe Winans, etc., appear on his client list. But when he answered the phone he was as friendly as a southern gentleman and I knew he would make sure I understand all the tech stuff to make this great.  A cordial "I feel like we're leaving ya to the dogs" comment wrapped up our conversation and I laughed.  I'm in good hands.

Other stuff on the agenda today?  

Green beans blanched and in the freezer
Learning how to organize my life with Evernote (a green app)
Listening to a new podcast I really like (while I did my 1200 jumps and 50 minute walk) called "The 5 a.m. Miracle"
Recording vocals for the last song on the project "Sing A Song Of Joy"
Practice the piano
Financial matters for my mother 

Time to rest.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Podcast episode # 23 "Gone Too Soon"

Frances shares an interesting outcome from her interview with Chris Fabry on the Moody Radio Broadcast back in 2009.  Hear a few songs for some very special children!

Check out this episode!

Monday, August 19, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day 131 Hoof Stompin' Mamas

I started the morning of my last day in Nashville by walking/jumping through a beautiful housing development near my hotel.  Stately trees, perfectly manicured lawns and flower gardens decorated the yards of the mansions.  Much to my delight, I came upon five fawns in someone's yard who were not at all alarmed by my presence.  Eventually three doe appeared, probably their mamas I decided.

It was such an amazing sight, that I decided to sit down on the pavement and just watch them.  All at once, another doe appeared and perked up when she saw me.  She began to make her way over toward me and stopped.  Raising her right leg, she began to pound her hoof into the ground with distinct, quick movement.  It was so pronounced I began to wonder if I might be in danger.  Would a doe charge a human?  I had no idea and I began to get a little bit nervous.  All at once, she snorted and took off and everyone followed her.  At that same moment, I heard a snort behind me and turned to witness a deer bouncing off behind me.  Aha.  They must have been communicating with each other and I was the monkey in the middle.

When I arrived at the studio, I asked the guys if they knew why a doe would stomp at me.  They didn't seem to know, so I googled it and sure enough, a doe will stomp their hoof as a sign of danger or to establish territory.  In all my lifetime of seeing deer, I have never witnessed that and it was quite a moment to behold.

In fact, it made me a little bit late to the studio.

Precious Moments

Just as we began to wrap up all the vocals on Friday, my videographer arrived at Phil's studio.   Lights, camera, action.  It was a much more subdued session than the night before because Billy was trying to capture the essence of recording vocals which basically means I stand in a booth with headphones on and sing my heart out, while Phil sits at the computer and engineers.

After catching an interview with Phil, Billy zoomed in on me singing in the booth.  It feels a little bit odd to sing when a camera is buzzing around you.

After Billy packed up his equipment and left, we kind of just took a big breath to relax and then re-set the studio for an exclusive interview between Phil and I, compliments of Phil.

Working with Phil has been an amazing experience and I humbly asked if he would allow me to do an interview with him for my podcast.  He graciously agreed and informed me that he was doing more talking (between the video interview and the podcast interview) than he has done in 10 years.  I am getting a special thank you package ready to send to him as a BIG thank you!!!

I was so touched by the next hour of conversation that we had.  It was as if I stepped back into time and witnessed the beginning of this man's career and his dream to pursue music.  As he leaned back in his chair and reflected over years of experiences, I realized that I was witnessing a very precious gift and one that I don't take lightly.  I will treasure it forever.

No matter how hard those mamas stomp their hooves, it will not keep me away from Nashville, TN.  I might even write a song about them.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day 130 The Graveyard Shift

Graveyard beside my hotel
I didn't see it when I first pulled in to my hotel in Franklin, TN, but I stayed right beside an old graveyard dating back to the 1700 and 1800's.  Apparently there was a little church there that burned down and was relocated, but the graves remain.  It must have been an indication of the odd hours I would keep on this trip.

The graveyard shift: The most ungodly hours of the night when no one should be awake!

I'm home now from TN, but I haven't slept much for 4 nights and I now attribute it to what I call "Nashville adrenaline".  It has been known to give me the power to drive home from TN all night to beat a band of tornadoes (and no - it's not a music band) and on this trip, sing to the heights and depths of the scale even though I'm sleep deprived.  Only problem is, when it stops flowing, I pretty much cease. Got room in the graveyard for me?

Here's how my day went Thursday.....

  • 8:00 a.m. meet with Ed Kee from Church Musicals, Inc.  

Ed Kee on right
I met him on one of my earlier trips to TN and overheard him say that he writes musicals.  My show is not necessarily a musical, but my ears perked up when I heard him tell what he does and I knew I wanted to have more time to glean insight from him.  So on this trip, I arranged to meet him for coffee.  Here are some of his credentials:

"As Producer or Executive Producer, managed the conception, development and production of hundreds of recording and publishing projects for major Christian music record labels and publishing companies resulting in gold and platinum sales awards, and consistent "Top Selling" product across all genres."

Two hours later, I had a wealth of information and advice about all kinds of aspects of the music business, plus a contact name for a woman who could write a script for me for the Christmas show.  She and I met later in the afternoon for an hour and I have hired her to take my story and make it into a professional script.  If you check out her website and see all that she does, you will see it was a miracle for her to be able to meet with me on such short notice.  Not only is she a writer and voice over personality, but she is the mom of 4 children!

  • 10:00 a.m. - head back to my hotel to warm up my voice for recording
  • 10:30 a.m. - talk on the phone with my videographer about shooting footage of my upcoming Christmas CD while in town.  (this came about thanks to facebook after I posted on Wednesday night that I was having a treat at Sweet CeCe's in downtown Franklin after a productive day in the studio with Phil Naish.  Billy saw my post and sent me a message and offered to do an EPK pronto!)
  • 11:30 a.m. - arrive at Phil's studio and finish up the background vocals to all the songs and do the final song of the CD, "You With Me".  
  • 1:30 p.m. - meet with Heidi Petak for an hour and present my vision for the show and express my need for a professional writer for the script to help me tell my story in a capturing way.
  • 2:30ish p.m. - rush through a Goodwill store to try to find an outfit for the video shoot
  • 3:30ish p.m. - after finding nothing suitable at Goodwill, I went to the Mall - never made it to the Mall because just as I pulled in, I got an e-mail from Eric saying he could meet with me for a little bit of time
  • 4:00ish p.m. - meet with Eric my executive producer to discuss the state of the CD - looks we are going to go for a 2013 release!!!!  He thinks we can make it.
  • 5:00ish p.m. - race around downtown Franklin to find an outfit for the video shoot (I had not come prepared at all on this trip for anything like this).
  • 6:00 p.m. - race back to my hotel, take another shower for the day and get ready to buzz over to Billy Brown's studio to shoot video - fortunately he had someone there who could do my hair and makeup.
  • 7:00 p.m. - arrive at Billy's studio where he asks me how many outfits I brought.  Only one!!!!  (If he only knew what I went through to find that one) so we borrow something from his precious wife and all was well
  • 8:00ish p.m. - 12:00 p.m. (1:00 a.m. PA time) - begin to shoot video of me at the piano and a long interview about the project and about my music ministry - he will have a lot to draw from
  • 1:00 a.m. - crash into bed and lay there most of the morning awake

snapshot of interview


It certainly was a whirlwind of a day, but so many wonderful things just fell right into place. If feels like something special is unfolding.

Ed Kee - Church Musicals, Inc.
Heidi Petak - Script writer
Billy Brown - Videographer (Evidential Productions)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day 129 Dreams Unfold Slowly

My cell phone rang and I was awakened out of a deep sleep.  I had no idea where I was, why I was in a hotel room or why I was alone.  I checked the number displayed and didn't recognize it so I didn't answer it.  

I drove 12 hours yesterday from PA to Nashville, much of it in torrential downpours and by the time I ate supper, checked into my room and ran some errands I was pretty tuckered out so I went to bed and was certainly unaware of life on this terrestrial ball when the phone rang.

Later in the night I went to the bathroom and being much more awake by then, checked my phone.  It was a message from the home where my mother lives.  She had fallen and hit her head so they took her to the ER.  I felt completely helpless.  

When I finally fell back to sleep I had a bad dream. I was now back with my mother caring for her and knew that in a few hours I was to be back in TN to begin the final 3 days of recording my CD.  I became very stressed in my dream realizing that I had 12 hours of driving ahead of me and I would never make it.

By the time I woke up, I was exhausted and couldn't get back to sleep.  The morning came early and I did not feel ready for the day.  My throat felt sore from tiredness and the realization that I had lots of singing ahead made we want to pull the covers back over my head and sleep until my voice was strong enough to finish this long awaited project - like how about 2014?

I did my exercise of 1200 rope jumps through the local neighborhood and came back a little more motivated.  After posting the night events on Facebook I was pleasantly encouraged by the number of folks who commented that they would be praying for me.  When I arrived at Phil's studio, I told him I wanted to focus on background vocals today and not do the last main song yet since I hadn't slept well, though I didn't tell him why.

So here it is, the end of the day and we got 6 songs done today and I made it through, voice good and strong.  Many of the harmonies and extra voices you will hear on this project will be the result of today's creative work and ideas between Phil and I.  Of course, I did all the singing - he just gave suggestions and ideas and I had to implement them.  Sometimes we laughed at my sorry tries at some of his ideas, but I usually got it after a few takes.  At one point I told him he should sing them (and I was serious because his voice sounded nice with mine) but he informed me that he is not a singer.  Bah humbug!

As I drove to the studio today I reflected on the fact that I would have never dreamed in a million years that I would get to work with someone like Phil.  He has produced many of my favorites - Carman and Michael Card (for starters).  I remember listening to those guys on the radio as a teenager and being moved by their music.  

This is not a dream I have pursued, but yet, slowly over time, by building relationships with people here in town and staying with it even in the midst of frustration, disappointment and setbacks, I am watching something beautiful unfold in my life and I feel as if I had nothing to do with it.

When Eric asked me if I would like Phil Naish to produce the vocals for this project, I couldn't believe it.  

My husband and I enjoy the book series by Jeanette Oakes called "Love Comes Softly" and all day the words kept running through my mind...."dreams come softly too".

Tomorrow (Thursday) we will finish background vocals and work on the lead vocal for "You With Me".  Trusting that I will sleep better tonight so I am ready for tomorrow.  This is it!!

I close with a few samples of studio lingo from the day:

we can fly that
really dig that out
onward and upward
here comes the stack
that's happenin'
stack it
I can tell you're thinking about it, not singing it
that is burnin'

P.S.  I don't know why these blogs often don't arrive in your mailbox until a day or so later than when I published it - so sometimes the words today, yesterday and tomorrow don't seem to be in real time.  My apologies.  : (

I called the nurse early this morning and found out that my mother had come home around 3:00 a.m. and was up eating breakfast.  Seems to be ok except for pain in her head and a bruised ankle. My dear sister from Canada called her and was able to comfort her across the miles.  Thanks sister!!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day 128 Think About Your Audience

"Getting there I think.  Maybe you dial back in a bit more emotion in parts, but Phil will take care of that."  - Eric Copeland

That was the response I got yesterday from Eric about the new vocal approach I've been working on for the song "You With Me."  Well, hopefully Phil will help me nail it this week.  When I asked Eric about the last minute lyric changes, he just said "less is always more".  Now I just wait for word from Phil, but I might just have to wait until I get there Wednesday morning.  That's ok.  I like the changes and feel good about it.

As I write this, we are on our way home from North Carolina where we spent time this morning remembering my sister-in-law, Sue Drost, who passed away recently.  The family asked me to sing at the funeral and I squirmed at their request.  Have you ever attended something that sets off all kinds of land mines in your soul?  You avoid those events if at all possible?  No need to stir things up - just keep them buried.  Funerals do that for me and though I wanted to honor the family, I was so afraid I would be a muddled mess of emotions and I really prefer not to sing in those circumstances.

However, I put those preferences aside and said yes, for them.  As we got closer to the moment when I was to sing the beautiful song "You Raise Me Up" my fingers began to shake and my heart began to pound.  I haven't been that nervous in a very long time.  I began to analyze what was making me nervous while also paying attention to the tributes being given.  

I was afraid.  Afraid of my emotions getting out of control, afraid that I would cry and not be able to sing, or worse yet, try to sing in spite of tears and sing way off pitch and totally butcher the song.  Then I began analyzing why I hate funerals in the first place.  I've already been down that road so many times that I just decided to not even get on that bus.  

I tried to think of funny things like cats barfing, or dead dry grass that crunches under my feet when I go to get the mail at our mailbox.  I closed my eyes and pictured no one in the room and just me at the piano bearing my soul through the music. I prayed for peace and ability to press through.  I asked what's the worst that could happen.  Meanwhile, my husband leaned over and said "are you nervous"?  Dah.  Was it the earthquake in my hands or the bulging of my dress around my heart area that gave it away?  Maybe he could hear the pounding?

Finally, in desperation, I tried to recall what coach Tom Jackson would tell me.  Most of our fears come because we are so consumed with what others will think of us, which means we are self-focused.  


"Think about your audience" Tom Jackson always says. 

Sue Drost and son, Derek
Ok.  So I began to think about the family and what they must be feeling.  I thought about all the friends that were present who could use some encouragement.  Sue Drost had touched many people's lives in her 4 1/2 year battle with cancer.  Apparently they had given her 6 months to live, but she decided to live life to the fullest in the time she had left and in the process, it was obvious she had touched many people very deeply.  I began to think of those people.  What about her son who is to be married in September?  What must it be like to lose your mom right before your wedding day?  The doctor who treated Sue came to the funeral.  It was the first cancer patient's funeral he had attended in 8 years of practice he said afterward.  With tears in his eyes, he said "Sue taught me how much cancer can break someone's heart and how cancer can make someone's heart stronger."  He was obviously touched by her life.

I began to breathe deep and exhale slowly.  I walked to the piano not knowing if Tom's advice would help.  I remembered singing at another funeral years ago where my tactics didn't help.  I had placed a comic strip on the piano beside my music to help me focus.  That didn't help.  I caught one glance of the mother who lost her 13 year old son and that was it.  I couldn't finish the song.  His name was Nathan, the name of my brother who drowned in our farm pond.

I sat down at the piano, began to touch the keys and when it came time to open my mouth, it worked.  No more shaking.  No more heart pounding.  Not one tear.   

Plenty of tears came later when we sang:

my chains are gone
I've been set free
my God, my Savior has ransomed me
and like a flood
His mercy reigns
unending love
amazing grace

.....and I let the tears flow freely.

Maybe there is a lesson there beyond musical performances.....perhaps many of our fears and nerves are rooted in being too self-focused.

Many people commented to me how much they had been touched by the song and how amazed they were that I was able to make it all the way through.  They have no idea the battle I had.  I told a few people it was a miracle.  And, it was.