Jenny's World and Welcome To It

Tuesday Song arounds at FitzGerald's 

On the third Tuesday of every month, I host the Songwriter in the Round series at FitzGerald’s Sidebar.

This past week my guests were Jeremy David Miller, a well-known Chicago-area music veteran, and Erich Specht of the Push Puppets, who has a new album. They were both GREAT. We had a FANTASTIC time with D. Anson Brody on sound, sharing new songs, seeing mutual longtime friends like Michael Dailey, riffing on themes, and generally just acknowledging that it is good be alive, in all of its messy splendor.

By the time these shows wind up, folks from nearby establishments make their way to FitzGerald's, like Kim, Tammy, Isaac David Lyons, Braxton, Robin Rolder, and John, to sit at the bar as Gonzo tends it, alongside each other, laughing and talking. It's happened for several shows, but I somehow just made the connection that it happens every Tuesday.

If there is anything I want my songs, haiku, shows, this email and actually - my meals, my conversations, my drawings, my work at my day job, anything I set out to DO - I want it to feel like it feels at FitzGerald's, before, during and after these Tuesday night songwriters shows, where we come together, share who we are, and have a good laugh, maybe a cry, and go home a little better than we came out of the house.

The next one is on Tuesday, October 17 with Michelle Held from Michigan and Christina Marie Eltrevoog from non-Chicago Illinois.  I hope you'll join us, and who knows - maybe we’ll hang out at the bar afterwards.

Celebration of Blair Hull’s Life 

Robin and I had the great honor of playing at the Celebration of Blair Hull’s life concert with a number of fellow musicians we are lucky to also call friends.  

Blair is truly an example of living with generosity and compassion, bringing the Divine into all things.  It was incredibly gracious of Blair to let those who love her celebrate her now, and incredibly generous of Jan Krist to  organize it. 

The artists who performed brought stories, traditional and original songs, and poems as befitted the occasion of honoring a woman who dedicated her life to lifting others up.  Blair herself sang us a song!

It was a meaningful afternoon with friends who gathered from near and far to celebrate this remarkable woman’s life.

Here is the Mary Oliver poem Andrew Calhoun shared aloud. 


I have been in love more times than one,
thank the Lord. Sometimes it was lasting
whether active or not. Sometimes
it was all but ephemeral, maybe only
an afternoon, but not less real for that.
They stay in my mind, these beautiful people,
or anyway beautiful people to me, of which
there are so many. You, and you, and you,
whom I had the fortune to meet, or maybe
missed. Love, love, love, it was the
core of my life, from which, of course, comes
the word for the heart. And, oh, have I mentioned
that some of them were men and some were women
and some—now carry my revelation with you—
were trees. Or places. Or music flying above
the names of their makers. Or clouds, or the sun
which was the first, and the best, the most
loyal for certain, who looked so faithfully into
my eyes, every morning. So I imagine
such love of the world—its fervency, its shining, its
innocence and hunger to give of itself—I imagine
this is how it began.

-Mary Oliver, from Red Bird (Beacon Press, 2008).

The Path of Joy 

As hard as we work
the best things in life are free
and freely given

Labor Day.

It means the end of summer to some of us, the beginning of our favorite season to others, and with the beginning of the school year, an almost universal feeling of return to days of deeper and more profound labor.

The Haiku Milieu event at FitzGerald’s this past Friday was itself a celebration of labor, the kind of labor you are born to, but have to choose over and over again.

Do anything you do with love, and it becomes an art.  Cooking? Yes. Listening to a friend? Yes. Cleaning? Debatable, but likely yes. Done with love, these things are all an artistic practice.

And what is an artistic practice but a kind of prayer, a hymn to the great, loving, irrepressible and irresistible calling of one wild beloved thing to another, the call of all of creation to each of us, saying, take what you’ve been given.  Here, it’s FREE!  And make some thing of it. 

Make something beautiful! Make something ugly!  Make something life affirming, make some thing challenging!

Embrace what you have been given, and turn it into something. 

Do it again and again, wielding it like a scythe through the wilderness of EVERYTHING.

All that you asked for that didn’t turn out the way you expected.

All the things you didn’t ask for, and don’t know what to do with.

And all the things that went way better than you dared to dream they could go.

Making anything -- make that, laboring intentionally and with love -- makes finding the path of joy easier, even if nothing makes it easier to follow.

To our labors, my dear friends, and always with love, Jenny

The Strung Out podcast with Marty McCormack 

Martin McCormack. If you ever get the chance to spend a little time with him don’t hesitate. He’s the real deal, as a solo artist, as part of the band Switchback, and as a visual artist, family man, and friend.

We had a great time recording this conversation for his legendary STRUNG OUT podcast. Hope you enjoy it!

Annie Capps, Annie Bacon, and thou 

What a time it was!

Annie Bacon, Annie Capps were together for a few shows in Michigan at Celebrate Hudson and 20Front Street.

It was magical. Having gotten back just an hour or so ago, I'll leave it at that for now.

So very grateful for Annie and Annie’s wonderful company and superb musicianship, for audiences that listen, laugh and sing along, and for the great gift of being able do what we love.

Speaking of which…thanks for reading. It means the world to me.

Kerrville, TX 2023 and/or eternity 

With June in the rear view and the summer about to roar full speed ahead, here in the trough of the wave, I’m remembering the lovely time we had just one month ago at the 2023 Kerrville Festival.

What a time it was. Old friends, new friends, new friends that felt like old friends, music and sleep deprivation and new songs and cover songs and coffee and guitars GALORE and MORE!

One night as we returned from the concert, the wind blew in out of nowhere. Tents lifted themselves up from their moorings as if to greet the storm, and even the electricity hightailed it out of there.  In the dark, by the glow of candles, a group of singer songwriters did what they’re made to do and sang into the darkness.  

Enjoy these 50 seconds of a night in 2023 that could have been happening on that very land since the beginning of time.

With Robin Bienemann, Sadie B. GZ, Belle-Skinner, Kirsten Maxwell, Aaron Smith, Oliver Steck, Lindsey Lee and more.

Happy Father's Day 

Happy Father's Day

to anyone who ever

kept something alive


There he is. My father, Thomas Joseph James McCarthy. 

Surrounded by his four children, after a profound game of SHARK in which he would dive under the water with one hand just above the surface and chase us, shrieking, hearts racing, arms and legs a blur of motion towards the sides of the pool that we never somehow reached before he captured us in his big bear arms.  

You know, like a shark would, if a shark were in the motel pool on Saturday morning in the wilds of Waukeshau, Wisconsin after a Friday night where you woke up raring and ready to go after a long and decadent night at the all-you-can-eat fried chicken place. The waiters are still probably shaking their heads about how much those McCarthy children could tuck in!

My father could tell you a story if he got in the mood. He wasn’t always in the mood though. He was of the generation where if you needed money, you got a second job. He worked days, then he came home and took a nap, then he worked nights, and came home and took a nap, then worked days again. 

I, who as you may recall, eschewed my own bed on a nightly basis in favor of my parent’s bed, was inwardly thrilled when he would start a new night job, happily sleeping on his side of the bed until he came home sometime before 6:00 am as the birds were singing. I’d give him a big hug and relinquish his side of the bed to him then.

My dad grew up with his father, a Chicago fireman legendary for his culinary skill at his firehouses, and his brother Jack. His mother Mary Hartigan, she of the bright red hair and brilliant smile, was the light of their lives until her passing when my Dad was six. She was preceded in death by her third son, my father’s youngest brother Michael, who passed away when my Dad was four.

 If my mom gets your ear, she’ll tell you that all she and my dad wanted was to create the big loving family neither of them had growing up. Most anyone who saw them together, though, will tell you that all my Dad really wanted was to make my Mom happy, and she wanted as many kids as possible. He loved her, it was what she wanted, and that was that. 

She brought us into the world, and he did what it took to keep us in it.

In addition to working multiple jobs, here is an incomplete list of the things he did to keep us alive: he refused to drop us off at houses for parties if he couldn’t see the people in the windows. No matter where he was or what he was doing, he would drive to downtown Chicago or really anywhere to pick us up when our cars stopped working. With a rare bonus from work, he divided the basement into two extremely small bedrooms so my little sister and I could have separate bedrooms and ensure that both of us graduated from high school rather than the penitentiary for killing each other. He could cook a perfect steak but preferred a good hamburger, and always took his portion after the rest of the family was served.

One time, I needed a ride home from college. I got my two lovable friends Mark and Brendan to drive me up, bribing them with the promise of having my Dad sing “I’m A Little Teapot” for them.

We arrived at the house to a Sunday night feast from my mom, and at the end of the meal, my friends were ready to hear my dad sing the song. To say my Dad proceeded reluctantly is an understatement, but proceed he did, with the hand gestures and dance movements that were apparently never meant to be seen by anyone but close family members around midnight campfires, to my friend’s great delight.  “You owe me, Jenny,” was all he said.  And though I tried his patience in many ways throughout our lives, he never made me pay.

This Father’s Day, I am grateful to the Dad I got to have. And if you are a person who has ever kept anything alive, you deserve to be celebrated too. Today and everyday.

Here's a song I wrote about my Dad: Sugar Candy.  I hope you enjoy it.

You'll find more stories like these at my Creativity and Collaboration blog at, and sign up for the Sunday Haiku Milieu Email at


The First-Ever Haiku Milieu Sunday Morning Movie! 

What do you get when you ask songwriters to write a song to a haiku? A BUNCH OF NEW SONGS, silly!

TOMORROW, Sunday, May 28 at 8:30 am, we'll watch the First-Ever Haiku Milieu Sunday Morning Movie at Friendly's on the big screen. You can join us in person, or from the comfort of your own home.

How it works is this: each artist chooses one of my haiku and images writes a song to it.

The audience has a bird's eye view of the process from inspiration to completed song. It is THRILLING to witness how one work of art gives rise to another, to contemplate how completely different works can be forged of the same initial impulse, and to witness the power of creativity to connect us with the world and each other.

Featuring video made especially for this show as well as performance videos from the Golden Dagger Haiku Milieu show, the Sunday Haiku Milieu Movie features new songs from long-standing Haiku Milieu contributors and newbies alike, many performed for the very first time in front of a live audience.

And being as it is the first time for many of these songs, do some of us forget our words? (ahem, I'm raising my hand here) and/or the order of the verses? (slight cough, downward glance, hand back in air) OF COURSE!! That's part of the fun.  These are professional musicians who have been gigging for a LIFETIME and who have THE VERY SAME JITTERS we all get when doing something new! 

That is part of the magic of the Haiku Milieu show: putting ourselves on the line, alongside others doing the same thing in a different way, working at the highest of levels with a goal of bringing this piece of ourselves to the audience where it may do them, and us, some good. 

I hope you'll join us.

Artists include Ashley and Simpson, Phil Angotti, Caitlin Arquinnes, Naomi Ashley, Robin Bienemann, Ralph Covert, Jason, Braun, Jonas Friddle, Ron Lazzeretti, David Zerlin, Shelly Miller, Matthew Pittman, Haiku, ukulele, Duke, Blue Stevenson, Victoria, storm, Heather Styka, Cathie, Van Wert, Emily White, Jon Williams, Josh Piet, Jason Batchko, Haiku Your Milieu with Amy Lazzeretti and Marilyn Rae Beyer, and of course, yours truly. 

See you at the show!

A Good Chance You’ll have a GREAT Time! 

I have the great joy of hosting the Singer Songwriter Circle at FitzGerald's on the third Tuesday of each month. 

This past month, musical glitterati Gerald Dowd and Casey McDonough were the special guests, and they were spectacular! And we had no fun at all, as you can tell by the photos. :)

The evening was made all the more special by the presence of Olivia Flanigan, who I held in my arms as a baby and never laid eyes on again until that evening!  You never know what's life's going to bring you, but if you go to FitzGerald's on Tuesday nights, there's a good chance you're going to have a great time.

Speaking of great times, it’s going to be a really fun Memorial Day Weekend.  I hope you can join us!

On Saturday night at Friendly Music Community in Berwyn, Illinois, I’m playing a full two sets of my own songs with an amazing band that includes John Abbey, Steve Doyle and Andon Davis, Ryan Shepherd, Ron Lazzeretti, and Jodi Walker.  The incomparable Bill Brickey opens the show at 8:30 pm. 

Then the next day, Sunday morning at 8:30 am, we will be streaming out the first ever "Haiku Milieu Sunday Morning Movie," a collection of songs and videos inspired by Haiku Milieu that will start your Sunday off right. If you can’t join us in person, you can join us online at Facebook and later in the day on YouTube.  

Sunday Morning Movie artists are: Ashley & Simpson, Phil Angotti, Caitlin Arquines, Naomi Ashley, Marilyn Rae Beyer, Robin Bienemann, Jason Braun, Ralph Covert, Jonas Friddle, Rebecca Jasso, Amy Lazzeretti, Ron Lazzeretti, Shelley Miller, Matthew Pittman, HaikUkulele Duke, Blue Stevenson, Victoria Storm, Heather Styka, Cathie Van Wert, Emily White, Jon Williams, and David Zerlin.
Then, Sunday night at The Acorn Theatre in Three Oaks, Michigan, Naomi Ashley plays Lucinda Williams' "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" album from start to finish. And right after that, her band Real Pretenders will do the entire "Learning to Crawl" record. Can you even stand it?!?  If you have never experienced this, you really must. I am thrilled to join these incredible human beings and musicians on harmony for a few songs.

If you click the link on the images below you’ll find out more information. We'd love to see you

Mother's Day: All the Good We Do is Never Lost 

There she is. Mrs. McCarthy, as they called her at the High School, or as I called her in the grocery store when she wouldn't turn around after I yelled MOM! a thousand times.

If you said Mrs. McCarthy she would turn around and give you her full attention, unless it turned out that you were calling her Mrs. McCarthy because you knew she had been deliberately ignoring your poorly behaved self as you wandered the aisles begging for a treat until she had no alternative but either lose her mind or push the cart forward and pretend she didn't know you.

My mom, who wants you to know she is either sweet 16 or 105, whichever you prefer, has been on the planet long enough to learn a few things.  One of them, is how to lower your center of gravity so when your children try to pick you up they can't actually do it.

Except for this one time...

We were in Alton's Drugstore in Naperville, Illinois. My little sister and I had been trying to lift her off her feet for YEARS, and through some amazing convergence of events, we successfully caught my mother just before she could lower her center of gravity and lifted her into the grocery cart. 

None of the three of us could believe it. The achievement shocked us into silence. We had to lift her out of the cart, and then she just walked out of the store. My sister and I just looked at each other. My little sister doesn't even remember it, and my Mom will swear it never happened, but you and I know the truth.  It did.

My saintly Mother.

We were the four McCarthy children, born of a Northside/Southside marriage, to parents who each had only one parent from the time they were young. We did what was required of every child growing up: having opinions, testing limits, lifting each other into grocery carts...and they did their part.  Trying to hold back the young hellions from their own untimely demise, trying to hold back the riptides of the past, and trying to prepare their children for a future none of us could have anticipated.

This makes me think of my garden.  

Over the course of the 20 years we’ve lived in this house I have invested the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears, as well as copious financial resources, into a garden that for whatever reason simply will not take.  I have even had a garden service keep the earth around my fledgling plants weed free to support their growth! 

When I talked this over with a dear friend, she said the focus on keeping the planting beds "clean" means the soil has received no nourishment, and that those patches of dirt, weed free as they may be, will admit no flowers. Even the vinca vine bought from a reputable establishment only hunkers down in its own little cluster, and though its branches reach towards each other from plant to plant, each year the attempt seems a little more halfhearted.

But you know what? I was looking in the wrong place.

Just this week, I happened to notice that the vinca vine I planted under my yew bushes jumped the cement sidewalk into my neighbor's garden, where. it. is. THRIVING!

This makes me think of my Mom.

Much of the good my Mom, at great personal expense, tried to do to get me to bloom in the direction she thought I should go, might look to her like it did not take. 

But just like the vinca, the gifts she gave me made me blossom in the exact WAY she hoped I would, just not blossom HOW she thought I would.  

This seems like an apt metaphor on Mother’s Day.  As anyone who has ever brought something to life knows, all the good we do is never lost. It always turns into something.

I can only reflect gratefully on the way my Mom provided a sturdy back stop for the inevitable projections and rejections we kids had to hurl upon her and my Dad to blossom in our own ways. 

I think of them when I am called to do the same with the people I love, to support them in becoming themselves in the way that suits them best, not me. And I'd like to think that anyone who does that with anyone else, deserves warm Mother's Day greetings, today and every day.