Five Important Reasons to Make Music with Your Family This Holiday Season

Me and Acting Surgeon General Moritsugu, adiposity 2007

Today is Veterans Day, a day to salute those who serve and have served our country in uniform. Most people are familiar with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and U.S. Coast Guard, but don’t know about the other two uniform services: Commissioned Officer Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS). I had the honor of serving as a nurse officer in the USPHS from 2005 – 2012.

On the USNS Comfort, 2007, with one of my patients somewhere off the coast of South America
On the USNS Comfort, 2007, with one of my patients somewhere off the coast of South America

For more than 200 years, men and women have served on the front lines of our nation’s public health in what is today called the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service.

Spraying my uniform with permethrin to protect against insects, on USNS Comfort, 2007
Spraying my uniform with permethrin to protect against insects, on USNS Comfort, 2007

The Commissioned Corps traces its beginnings back to the U.S. Marine Hospital Service protecting against the spread of disease from sailors returning from foreign ports and maintaining the health of immigrants entering the country. Currently, Commissioned Corps officers are involved in health care delivery to underserved and vulnerable populations, disease control and prevention, biomedical research, food and drug regulation, mental health and drug abuse services, and response efforts for natural and man-made disasters as an essential component of the largest public health program in the world. (from 

PHS vet officer
PHS dental officer

USPHS officers come from a variety of backgrounds such as doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, vets, environmental health, and more. If you have kids thinking about a health-related career, I encourage you to look into the USPHS. In some cases, they can get their student loans paid back for serving at an underserved location like a Native American hospital or a federal prison. There are also opportunities with other federal agencies like the CDC, FDA, and NIH.

Deepwater Horizon oil spill crew, 2010

USPHS officers serve day to day at one of these federal agencies and train to deploy to public health emergencies. Colleagues of mine provided public health expertise after 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and more recently the ebola outbreak in West Africa. I deployed on a humanitarian mission to South America on the USNS Comfort in 2007, as well as to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill emergency operations center in 2010.

Besides getting to help people, one of the best parts of being in the USPHS was my fellow officers. Some of my favorite people in this world I met in the USPHS.

Me, Dan, Laura, Thomas, 2009
Me, Dan, Laura, Thomas, 2009


By Susan Darrow, remedy
CEO of Music Together LLC

This time of year, music often plays a bigger role in many people’s lives than it does during the rest of the year. School concerts, religious choir performances, seasonal community events, holiday hits playing on the radio — all offer abundant opportunities to take advantage of the physical and emotional benefits of music.

The magic of music shines exceptionally bright during the holiday season. It is important to encourage people to use this wealth of musical opportunities as a springboard for making music throughout the entire year.

Music can help families on many levels. It promotes development in babies and young children, bonds families across generations, and stimulates areas of the brain involved with motivation, reward, and emotion. Making or listening to music can actually result in increased levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain’s reward system.Here are five reasons you should be making music with your family this holiday season:

  1. Music-making is beneficial to development. Music stimulates social, physical, cognitive, and emotional development and promotes language and concentration skills, confidence, and self-esteem. During the early years, active engagement with music promotes brain development and naturally supports growth essential to life and learning, as well as increasing the bond between children and their caregivers. It’s easy to get started making music with children during the holidays: Sing your favorite carols in the car, dance to holiday songs, take children to a holiday concert or musical.   A 2014 Harris Poll commissioned by Music Together revealed that only a low 17 percent of parents sing to their child daily. Music development is similar to language development. Imagine if you only talked to your child once a day! We teach children language by continuously talking and reading to them. Similarly, the best thing parents can do to support musical growth is to sing and dance with their children, as often as possible. And what better time of year to bring more music into your child’s life than the holidays, when music is in abundance?
  1. Music helps us create and recall powerful memories. Music can spark the recall of past experiences. It helps the past “come alive,” giving us access to deep feelings as we remember an event or moment from the past. Singing while you decorate the tree, at a holiday party, or at a religious celebration can help form memories and bonds with extended family and friends that will be recalled for many years to come.
  1. Music relieves stress. The holidays, while joyful, can also be stressful. Singing can actually relieve stress. Studies show that singing has the ability to slow our pulse and heart rate, lower our blood pressure, and decrease the levels of stress hormone in our bodies. Play music in the car while navigating the mall parking lot or sing along to a holiday recording while getting ready for company. It will help you stay calm and, most importantly, model for your children a healthy way to deal with the stress of everyday life.
  1. Music connects us. The holidays can be lonely for some people. Singing, especially in groups, can relieve this loneliness by connecting us to others in ways that no other activity can. Recent research indicates that music-making as a shared experience can activate and synchronize similar neural connections in all those participating. This synchronization can result in feelings of empathy and shared intention that can promote positive social interaction and bonding. When you sing with others this holiday season, whether it’s during a religious service, at a community event, or at a family gathering, everyone benefits.
  1. Singing is intergenerational. Music is an ageless way to connect with older relatives and create ties between youngest and oldest family members. Plus, music supports the aging processes. In later years, participating in music activities helps keep the brain active and engaged and supports us physically, socially, and emotionally. Sharing memories of holiday music-making from their past and teaching those songs to future generations can be joyous for both the elderly storytellers and the family members listening, forming new, pleasurable memories.

Susan Darrow is the CEO of Music Together an internationally recognized, developmentally appropriate early childhood music and movement program for children birth through age seven. First offered to the public in 1987, the Music Together curriculum, coauthored by Kenneth K. Guilmartin and Dr. Lili M. Levinowitz (Director of Research), is based on the recognition that all children are musical. All children can learn to sing in tune, move with accurate rhythm, and participate with confidence in the music of our culture, provided that their early environment supports such learning. Music Together offers programs for families, schools, at-risk populations, and children with special needs, in over 2,500 communities in 41 countries. The company is passionately committed to bringing children and their caregivers closer through shared music-making and helping people discover the joy—and educational value—of early music experiences. More at and  

Music to My Ears

My husband is musically inclined. I am not. My 6-year-old often tells me to stop singing — that I’m hurting her ears. So needless to say, food singing bedtime lullabies isn’t my thing. So at our house we softly play classical music in the younger girls’ room to help them go to sleep. The music plays all night long.

There was a research study the early 1990’s about “The Mozart Effect” — that listening to Mozart aided in improved spacial reasoning. Further studies support either a null effect or short-term effect with mixed results.

Nevertheless, seek music can benefit children in other ways. Patients with epilepsy who listened to Mozart’s Sonata K.448 had a decrease in epileptiform activity due to the tempo, structure, melodic and harmonic consonance and predictability of the piece.

What results have you seen with music and children?

Album of the Year

Does your kid want to hear the same CD over and over and over again? Mine sure does. When Maya was around three years old, grip she only wanted to listen to Adele. She could barely speak, but she’d be strapped in her car seat pouring her soul into “Rolling in the Deep.” Luckily I loved the 21 album too, so it became our soundtrack for most of 2011-2012. However, she didn’t like to hear me sing. She’d tell me that I was hurting her ears. Subtle. adeleThen in the fall of 2012, she was done with Adele and moved on to Haley Reinhart from American Idol fame. She wasn’t a fan of the entire album — her favorite song was “Keep Coming Back” or Track 8 as we called it. Luckily that phase didn’t last an entire year, and I “misplaced” the Haley CD. haleyIn late 2013, like most families with young girls, we saw the movie Frozen, and Maya got the Frozen soundtrack for her birthday. Her favorite song surprisingly was “Frozen Heart” — the opening song with the men slinging ice picks. Sometimes we’d have a sing-along on the drive to Pre-K, acting silly being different characters from the movie. I’d often catch myself still listening and singing to it even after I’d dropped her off. FrozenMost recently, Maya is on a Taylor Swift kick. Her older sister Madison got the new Taylor Swift CD for Christmas. Because it came with an electronic download, Madison has it on her phone, and we got the “old school” CD version. Yeah for me. We listen to “Shake It Off” as loud as I’ll allow THREE TIMES on the drive to school. At least she lets me sing with her now. Taylor


National Anthem Barbershop Quartet Style

As I’ve posted before, prescription my living room is a work in progress.

Before 2013-08-11 18.56.00

Today (not calling it After yet)

5-2013-08-21 20.09.51

6-2013-08-21 20.10.31

7-2013-08-21 20.10.37Still need to decide on chairs for ends of table and a few other accessories to finish the room out, diagnosis but I’m very pleased with the progress. Besides the dining table and two benches that we got with wedding gift cards mostly, everything in this room was a estate sale find or something that me or my mom already had. And the decoupage bench is an original from my friend Pepper Pepper.

My sweet hubby filled in for a local barbershop quartet last Friday night to sing the National Anthem at the Arkansas Travelers baseball game. The girls and I enjoyed watching him, dermatologist
as well as playing bingo to try to win a “clunker.” (It was Clunker Car Night.)


Wedding ceremony…

Anthony and I wanted a religious ceremony, buy but minus all the “Dearly beloved, we are gathered…”.  We wanted it to be fresh and meaningful to us. Here’s what we ended up with:

Song: “When the Right One Comes Along”

Opening Prayer
We are gathered here in the presence of God, family and friends to unite Stacey and Anthony in holy matrimony. Marriage is an honorable estate, and is therefore not to be entered into lightly, but reverently, advisedly, soberly and with God’s blessing. Today, they will receive God’s greatest gift; another person to share with, grow with, change with, be joyful with and to stand with as one when trials and tribulations enter their lives. It is fitting, therefore, that we should on this occasion begin by asking for God’s blessing on this marriage. Let us pray.?? Heavenly Father, we gather to celebrate your gift of love, and its presence among us. We rejoice that these two people have chosen to commit themselves to a life of loving faithfulness to one another. We praise you, Lord, for the ways you have touched our lives with loving relationships such as Stacey and Anthony’s, and we give thanks for the special love and friendship you have put in their hearts. Renew within us an affectionate and loving spirit. Enrich our lives with the gracious gift of your love so that we may embrace others with that same love. May our participation in this celebration of love and commitment give to us a new joy and responsiveness to the relationships that we cherish. In your loving arms we pray, Amen.
You may all be seated.

Definition of Commitment
Marriage is a joyous occasion. It is connected in our thoughts with the charm of love, the warmth of home, and with all that is pleasant, as being one of the most important events of our lives. Its sacredness and unity is the most significant and binding covenant known in human relations. Let me remind you, Stacey and Anthony, your home will never be what God intends for it to be if you leave Him out of your relationship. As you are obedient to the Word of God, and allow God to control your relationship, your home will be the place of joy and testimony to the world that God intends.

Stacey and Anthony, let me charge you both to remember that your future happiness is to be in mutual consideration, patience, kindness, confidence and affection. It is the duty of each of you to find your greatest joy in the company of the other; to remember that your love pledged today must remain undivided for a lifetime. ??It is your duty, Anthony, to be to Stacey, a considerate, tender, faithful, and loving husband: to support, guide and cherish her in prosperity and trouble; to thoughtfully and carefully enlarge the place she holds in your life; to constantly show to her the tokens of your affection, to shelter her from danger, and to love her with an unchangeable love.

??It is your duty, Stacey, to be to Anthony, a considerate, tender, faithful, and loving wife; to comfort, guide and cherish him in prosperity and trouble; to give to him the unfailing evidences of your affection; to continue making the place he holds in your heart, broader and deeper; to support him, value him and work with him to make your marriage the very best that it can be.??I call your attention to the seriousness of the decision which you have made and the covenant you are about to declare before God. The vows you are about to take are not to be taken without careful thought, for in them you are committing yourselves exclusively to one another for as long as you both shall live.

Wedding Vows
If you are ready to assume the obligations and duties before God, as I have defined them, you will unite your hands and pledge your love and your lives to each other.?? Anthony, repeat after me.? I Anthony, take you, Stacey, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, for as long as we both shall live. For where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. This is my solemn vow.

Now Stacey, please repeat after me.? I Stacey, take you, Anthony, to be my husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, for as long as we both shall live. For where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. This is my solemn vow.

Exchanging of the Rings
You will now exchange rings as a symbol of the lifelong commitment and abiding love which you as husband and wife have promised to each other.??Anthony, as you place this ring, symbol of your commitment in marriage, on the third finger of Stacey’s left hand, repeat after me:

With this ring I wed you and pledge my faithful love.  I take you as my wife and pledge to share my life openly with you, to speak the truth to you in love.  I promise to honor and tenderly care for you, to cherish and encourage your fulfillment as an individual through all the changes of our lives.

Stacey, as you place this ring, symbol of your commitment in marriage, on the third finger of Anthony’s left hand, repeat after me:
With this ring I wed you and pledge my faithful love.  I take you as my husband and pledge to share my life openly with you, to speak the truth to you in love.  I promise to honor and tenderly care for you, to cherish and encourage your fulfillment as an individual through all the changes of our lives.

Eternal God, help Stacey and Anthony to fulfill the promises they have made here today and to reflect your steadfast love in their commitment to each other. Give them kindness and patience, affection and understanding, happiness and contentment. May their family and friends continue to support them, so that their love for each other may continue to grow as long as they both shall live.  (In Spanish also.)

Song: “Last First Kiss”

As this couple has joined lives here today, it’s important to understand that everyone present has played a part in shaping the characters of Stacey and Anthony, and will play a vital role in their continuing lives. And thus we are here not only to witness their vows to each other, but also to bestow upon them our blessing.
May you find in one another the love for which all men and women yearn.
May you grow in understanding and compassion.
May the home which you establish together be such a place of sanctuary that all who are here today and others through the years will find a haven of peace and joy.
May The Lord bless you and keep you;
May The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you;
May The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.

Declaration of Marriage
Stacey and Anthony, having witnessed your vows for marriage before God and all who are assembled here, by the power vested in me by the State of Arkansas, the Holy Spirit, and the Lord Jesus Christ, I now pronounce you husband and wife.  You may kiss the bride! Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you for the first time Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Keith Valley and their children…

Now we invite you to stay and celebrate with us. (Music starts “Marry You”)

Rehearsal Dinner (minus the rehearsal) Cake

img_8000 Anthony and I started our wedding celebration the night before with a gathering of friends and family at our house. My cousin Amy provided the entertainment. My parents and cousins Eric and Pam helped with a yummy spread of BBQ and all the fixins. I made a killer chocolate cinnamon cake.

Chocolate Cinnamon Cake

Prepare sheet cake pan, illness greased and floured. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

1 cup water
1/2 cup oil
1 stick butter
4 T. cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk

Bring to a boil the water, oil, butter, and cocoa. Remove from heat and add sugar and flour. Mix in cinnamon, eggs, vanilla, soda, and buttermilk. Pour into greased and floured sheet cake pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

4 T. cocoa
6 T. milk
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 (1 lb.) box powdered sugar
1 cup pecans

Heat cocoa, milk and butter; beat in vanilla, cinnamon, and powdered sugar. Add pecans and spread on warm cake.