Visiting Japan!

Hey all! I just got back from my epic trip to Japan and China! And by "just got back" I mean I have been home for almost three weeks now, on cloud nine. I don't think I can express what this trip did for me, in me. Besides the obvious "I CAN'T BELIEVE I'VE BEEN TO JAPAN AND CHINA", my journey through these amazing landscapes tied up so many emotional loose ends, gave me so much inspiration, so much energy to get moving! We landed back in Minneapolis and I haven't lost the momentum yet. Because there are so many pictures and such a full itinerary, I'm going to split up my report by country. This is Japan.

 

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We flew out of Minneapolis, through San Francisco, and then boarded our 12 hour flight to Osaka! It's the longest I've ever been on a plane, and even though I was totally exhausted (because I spent almost the whole night before we left packing finally) I'm never able to sleep on planes. We landed in Osaka around 4pm local time, and in Japan's customs we found some members of our tour group and chatted with them.

Osaka greeted us with a perfect late afternoon sunset, everything was pastels. The skies were pale blue and pink and the city was whites and grays and was accented in seafoam green. And you could see the blue mountains in the background, it was so pretty! Also, very important, our hotel room had slippers and jammies!

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Somehow I managed to take some pictures despite having been awake forever. That night we had our welcome dinner and then after 27+ hours of being awake we KNOCKED OUT.

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After a delicious hotel breakfast, we visited Osaka Castle. We couldn't tour inside, just hung out around the park.

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We bought our first ice creams! I got a matcha, Eva got vanilla, and through a translation error we accidentally ordered an extra vanilla, so we gave the extra to someone in our group! Ice cream is how you make friends.

After Osaka Castle, we began the drive up Mount Koya. Our bus driver was so skilled on the narrow and windy roads!

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We visited the largest graveyard in Japan! That night we were staying at a monastery, where they gave us yukatas and we slept on futons spread out on tatami mats, and we had our first public bathing experience! Nothing bonds a tour group like seeing everybody butt-naked on your second day together.

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Above: Photographic evidence of me being incredibly jetlagged.

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We were invited to experience meditation, and I liked what the monk told us: "Don't meditate to become healthier. We meditate to control our breathing. Becoming healthier is a side effect."

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We only got to be there one night, and I was sad to leave the monastery, the monks were so nice and they all waved to our bus as we left, it was so sweet! I was pretty carsick while we drove down the mountain, but the view was so beautiful.

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An hour or two later we were in Kyoto! Kyoto is the cultural center of Japan, and it used to be the capital. We first visited a sake museum, where we got to learn how sake is made, and we also got a free bottle of sake as a souvenir?! Let's get on that, America.

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We visited the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine with over 10,000 gates, where students come to wish for academic success! We had the opportunity to pray and wish for something so I bought a fox face charm of sorts and prayed for music success.

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VERY IMPORTANT!!! Outside the shrine was a super great street food market, where we had gigantic chunks of bacon, that potato spiral (which Eva was incredibly excited about), and that amazing custard bun, which was one of the best things I ate on the whole trip.

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Our local guide for the day was Akira, or as our tour director called him, Mr. Sunshine! He brought us to the much photographed Golden Castle (where we bought paper fortunes...mine was excellent) and the famous love rock, which was at a beautiful temple with a three-story pagoda. There is a special shrine where you can make a wish and it is sure to come true, but you can only wish there once in your lifetime. I decided to save my wish for the next time I'm in Japan.

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We loved smiling at the school children and watching them smile shyly back. At our hotel, there was a junior high class checked in the same time as us, and a couple of boys came up to me and Eva to try to have an English conversation. It went something like this:

Boy: Where are you from?
Us: America!
Boy: Oh, me too!
Us: Oh yeah? You too?
Boy: Uh...BYE! (and then he ran away)

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The next day was our free day in Kyoto, we took the bus to the bamboo forest, where everything was so green and beautiful!

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From there we broke off and Evaand I went to Kyoto Station to try Mister Donut!!! So chewy!!! So delicious!!! When we asked our tour director how to get to Kyoto Station, he asked us why, and we had to admit we were going purely for Mister Donut, and he laughed at us.

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After donuts, we wanted to find the Kyoto Animation shop, which we had to reach by train. Somehow we managed to buy tickets on the machine (after taking 8 years to fin dthe English button) and made it to the right train line. I loved the train ride out to the suburbs of Kyoto, I want to live in the neighborhood we went to! The KyoAni Shop had a lot of other anime merch besides the one I watched (Hyouka), but I got a cute Satoshi head and a couple of cute buttons, too! No pictures allowed inside though.

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We bummed around drinking peach water for a bit after that and then made our way back to the train. The platform director came out to make sure we knew where we were going (we didn't, and if he hadn't we would have gotten on the wrong train), which was so sweet and everywhere in Japan the locals were taking care of us!

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Once we were back in Kyoto, we searched for the cat cafe we wanted to check out, and started walking! On the way there, we smiled at some high school girls and the giggled and crooned, "Kawaii~!" while we walked by and it was the most magical thing that has ever happened to me.

After a lovely two mile walk, we found it but it was closed for maintenance! We were super upset and our phones were dying so we tried to find coffee shops to charge our phones at, and after two dead ends (they were both closed!), our phones died and we decided to try and make it back to a big road so we could hop on a bus. But on our way, like destiny, we saw a girl go down some steps into a hidden coffee shop, Drip & Drop, where we rejoiced, ordered coffee, and finally got to rest and charge our phones!

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When we left, we caught a bus to Kyoto Station, but ended up on the wrong bus. I was looking at the bus map, trying to find the stations the speaker was announcing, and after like six stops the woman next to me (who had been looking at the map in my hands), asked us where we were trying to go. We told her Kyoto Station and she said we were going the wrong way! She tried to explain how to get to the right bus, but eventually couldn't find the words and she actually guided us off the bus, walked us to the right bus stop, read the sign to tell us when the bus was coming (it was the last bus of the night and it was coming in 15 minutes!!!). We thanked her profusely, and as we sat in the dark we noticed a dark shadow across the night sky, and Eva realized it was the actual mountain perimeter of Kyoto, we had made it all the way to the MOUNTAIN!!!

We got on the right bus and rode it all the way back to the station, where we went up to the Ramen Koji Floor, an entire floor full of ramen shops.

A nice couple helped us order from the machine, and we ate delicious ramen before heading back downstairs to hop on the bus to our hotel. Somehow we got on the wrong bus again, but luckily we noticed by the second stop and got off quickly and decided to just walk the mile back to our hotel, where we fell asleep hard.

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The next morning we took taxis to the train station, and took the bullet train (the one named after the 'speed of sound') to historical Hakone! We visited a castle converted into an elementary school, where the kids waved "hello!" cutely to us! Eva got creative with her photographer poses and I was quite proud.

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Then we drove up the mountain (Mount Kisokoma I believe?) to see the peak of a natural gas volcano. It was pretty cold and rainy but it was really cool!

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Afterwards we drove down into Atami, where we would be staying for the night. On the way, one of our tourmates shouted, "There she is!" out the window, so we all looked and saw the white capped peaks of Mount Fuji, and I literally almost started crying it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.

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The next day we went to the beautiful grassy ruins of the forbidden castle, which was so pretty! It was a pretty long hike, and we saw some mountain caretakers trimming bushes and tending the wilderness like a garden.

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Next we drove to Lake Ashi (Crater Lake) for a boat ride, and all I could think of was how much it looked like Star Lake from Howl's Moving Castle! Like, just look at that lake. Are you kidding me?

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After that we took a gondola ride up another mountain to witness a fantastic view. I distracted myself from the heights by pretending I was on the cable car in Pokemon. Japan really is 80% mountains!

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On our way to Tokyo, we stopped at Kamakura, which is a very melting pot-esque city. It's where the US Navy base is, and it kind of felt like a surf town. I liked it! We ate burgers and starbucks and felt like our homesickness was appeased for the time being. We also found a cute Studio Ghibli store!

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In Kamakura we visited the Great Buddha!

Then it was back on the bus, we drove through Yokohama and got to see the skyline at the golden hour, I really wish we could have visited Yokohama but Tokyo was waiting!

We got to Tokyo at about 6:30, checked into our hotel rooms and settled for a bit before meeting our tour director who brought us through the metro to the famous Shibuya Crossing! I guess we were still feeling a little homesick, so Eva and I ate dinner at the McDonald's overlooking the crossing, had melon cream soda floats and then made it back to the hotel for bed.

The next day was our free day in Tokyo! We started back at Shibuya Crossing, where we sipped coffee in Starbucks and planned our day out on a napkin across from a man making origami flowers. Once we were finished, we made to leave and the man across from us offered us two paper tulips and asked us to write a message in his notebook, where he keeps messages from foreigners who visit Japan! There were messages from Australia, England, Kenya, and he explained he was making friends all over the world because we are all one world together. We both wrote messages, thanked him kindly and left with permanent smiles on our faces.

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We hit Shibuya 109 first! All eight floors of the fashion tower! Halfway through the tower, my dad woke up back in the states and sent me a text reading: "Lots of foreign AMEX charges. Assuming this is okay." We dropped our loads and loads of bags off at our hotel room, and then went back on the metro to find the Pokemon Center, where I emptied my wallet yet again!

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After that we went to a really cool store called LOFT, and then had lunch at a Chinese place in the mall. We were both so tired of fish, haha! There was a planetarium and an aquarium in the mall, which would have been really cool but we didn't have time to visit. :(

A nice lady helped us find the metro again after lunch, she was with her baby and mother, and she asked us where we were from and told us her son Kai was half Australian! It was nice to visit the neighborhood-feeling parts of Tokyo.

Afterwards we hit the Muji flagship store, which is basically the Japanese IKEA.

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After that we went to the Aoyama Flower Market, where we bought perfume! If you smell me, and I smell delicious, it's because of that amazing perfume. I was really excited because I had wanted to visit the teahouse, and it did not disappoint! I had a kimono tea blend, Eva had a delicious mojito, and then we split a delicious rose parfait that was so pretty I almost didn't want to eat it!

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The next day was our sightseeing tour of the city! We happened to be there on Tokyo's biggest festival of the year! All of the locals were in traditional clothing, so many men in banana hammocks!

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We visited the fishmarket which was unfortunately mostly closed, but it didn't really matter because we don't like fish. We did get some delicious ice cream, though! Then we drove by the huge Imperial Palace and the business district of Tokyo, as well as the biggest station in the city, where there was an entire floor of pastry shops!

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Harajuku!!! Basically the pre-teen version of Shibuya 109.

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I was astounded by how much of an urban sprawl Tokyo is. It just kept going and going and going, no matter how far we walked, or rode the metro, or looked.

Before dinner we went to a big square in Aoyama/Shibuya and a bunch of cute boys asked me for a photo, and also for my LINE account which I didn't give them but the photo part was nice! We were starving so Eva and I ordered a hot dog at a coffee shop (idk it's Japan) to recover from the fish market and then we all went to a Korean BBQ place for our last dinner in Japan! It was easily the best meal of our entire trip.

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That night we packed as best we could because the next morning we were flying out to Beijing! Saying goodbye to Japan was so hard, I'm already planning so much for when I get to go back! Hopefully that's not too far away.

In Japan everybody was so kind and gracious and genuine. I seriously left a big piece of my heart. I'm still debriefing this country with so many of my friends, it was just so incredible.

China is next, stay tuned!

Love,
Greta

I'm Back!

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I'm halfway through packing for a mid-week trip to San Diego when I have to sit down and look at the new fancy little suitcase I just bought. It is open on my bed, just a couple of shirts on one side and a sleeping bag and camping pad on the other (there are going to be seven of us girls in one room and I'm a camper -- I can handle the floor). Just a year ago I was barely entertaining the idea of applying to work for an airline, and now I'm seven months into this job that makes travel so possible, so not-a-big-deal. Before working at an airline, I didn't really think about traveling. Then again, I've never had the whole world at my fingertips.

And then on the 13th my sister and I will be flying across the world to Japan, and then onto China! We're going with a tour company, which is excellent because they handle the details, and because honestly, Asia is a little scary. The way we're anticipating the adventure makes it seem like our timelines have been divided into two categories: life Before Japan/China, and life After Japan/China. I wanted to open up my blog again before we left, and I was hoping to have a song or video done before that, but time is running out and I feel the voice inside sternly whispering, "You have to move."

So here I am, slowly getting back in motion! I wish I had a song to post for you guys. All of January until March I was working the overnight shift (that's 8pm-4:30am, if you're keeping track), and if you follow my instagram stories, you know that it was mostly just tons of shenanigans and then complete and utter exhaustion. Constant exhaustion. All the time. My life since January 6th has been a simple cycle of working, sleeping, musical rehearsal, and, most notably, weekly visits with my therapist.

Talking about therapy is sometimes weird for me and other times it is as normal as discussing the weather. On one hand, depression and anxiety are demons so many people struggle with. On the other hand, I never thought I would be one of those people, especially now that I'm out of the dark, both literally in my new shift at work and figuratively in my emotional state. If you followed my very occasional posts on social media, you may be a little worried, but I wanted to reassure you that I'm really doing well! In real life, I do not dwell on how hard depression was for me. I am not sad. I am not hopeless for my future. What I am is recovering, at a really good pace. The night shift brought my entire life to a sudden halt, and in that total lack of motion I knew the only thing I had to do was recover. From the 52 Weeks Project. From depression. From anxiety. From insecurities that had never surfaced before. From triggers I didn't know I had. I've begun to think of working nights as my own severe mercy, forcing me to grind to a stop...and keeping me still.

In case there was any doubt, I absolutely hated the night shift! Not so much for the hours themselves (although they suuuuuucked), but for the way it monopolized the rest of my life. I couldn't go for any main or supporting character in the show I'd been planning on auditioning for since the summer. I was dead tired, every second of the day. I couldn't see any of my friends because they were free while I slept and worked when I was free and slept when I worked. I had to stop volunteering at church because I couldn't handle it in my schedule. I had to stop going to church because I couldn't handle it in my schedule. I felt like I had gone into hiding, I never saw anybody.

So in what was probably my extroverted subconscious dying for attention, I started making Instagram stories chronicling my night shifts with my co-workers. And wow, people actually started watching them and replying to them. On the rare occasions my schedule/energy allowed me to actually go out in public my friends and acquaintances would stop me to tell me how much they loved my night shift stories. Just a few weeks ago my parents were in Disney where they ran into an old friend who said, "I love Greta's night shift stories!" Like, what the heck?! I had no idea so many people would like my stories! They ended up being really a blast to make, my coworkers wanted cameos, there was a lot of "Greta, put this on your story!" and that's just such a beautiful thing!

God bless, my shift changed a couple of weeks ago and I am now working in actual broad daylight, I have a normal sleep schedule and my energy level is once again high. Sadly, now that the night shift is over, the night shift stories are over, too. What I learned though, is that videos are fun. Like, really fun. And cutting videos together comically? I love it. Like my siblings' Disney travel videos (part one, two, and three). I'd love to build up a YouTube channel, with travel videos and music videos and some vlogs? So keep your eyes out for that!

I'll start working on music again as soon as I can, because that's my real purpose with being on the internet. In the meantime though, feel free to browse the 52 Weeks Project! I've been listening to some of my tracks and some of them actually turned out really really nice! Several are pretty rough, but that's okay! I'm really happy with everything I learned working on the project, and even on working through tough songs (and *even* when those songs didn't turn out super great), at least I kept going. It's good to finish what you start.

I am happy to be back!

Love,
Greta

week 52: when will my life begin?

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In my mid project reflection post, which I wrote back in April, I posted: "I asked myself over and over again if I really believed I was made for music, if I really wanted to give singing the full spotlight it deserved and risk any kind of failure. I really thought if I tried to be a singer and failed then I would lose music." I don't know how I can express to you that this was seriously my biggest fear before starting to record. I would ask, what if nothing comes of this? Is this even worth it? Why am I doing this?

It's absolutely surreal to post my very last track of the 52 Weeks Project. I'm trying to remember how I felt last October, what my expectations were, how I thought I'd feel when I finished. How did I get here? Also, where is here? Where am I right now? A year (+ a few months whoops) later, I'm still a total mixing n00b, and while my track recording process is still rudimentary at best, the sheer amount of personal growth I've experienced this year is beyond overwhelming to think about. My big joke of 2016 has been how God tricked me into character development. "I started this project to record music, not to grow as a person!" Like, come on, Greta.

This week I'm in Disney World, so I thought I'd end with a Disney song (fun fact, I started with a Disney song as well)! I'm feeling a little bit like Rapunzel right now, a little lost in who I am, having just finished a huge step in my journey and kind of waiting on God to move me into the next one. I'm really thinking, when will my life begin? This season was so temporary, it had a very clear expiration date, and that's okay because that was the point. 52 weeks. 52 songs. Just for the sake of making something. It's just...now what?

What's next? A huge chapter for me is ending. Not particularly long, because one year really isn't that significant, but a very full year of work and play and career changes and everything I thought I knew about myself getting flipped upside down. There's so much more I want to say, so I'll save a bit for upcoming blog posts. For now, have a listen to my final track of the 52 Weeks Project!

Before I close the project down, I want to post some huge thank you's.

First of all, to my dear, dear friend Derek, who easily played on the most tracks. I remember texting you way back before week 6 like, "Hey...wanna play on a track sometime? How's this song? Is this song too hard for you? Too easy? Wanna meet up and see how to arrange it?" And we wanted to impress each other (and we did impress each other, right?) and well, recorded song after song after song. You're an incredible musician and it's been an absolute honor to throw so many tracks together this year. You kept me accountable and motivated and honestly, you became the backbone of the whole project. It would not have happened without you. Thank you thank you thank you. You are a God sent blessing.

A huge thank you to Andrew, you are a professional musician and volunteered your services out of the goodness of your heart. I don't take that for granted, at all. Singing with you has always been a huge pleasure. Our whole house would get so excited to have you come over to track, you're so much fun to jam with and I only hope we'll get a chance to work together more and more going forward in our musical journeys. Thank you.

Thank you to Sten, for letting me bug you over and over again to lay down a drum track or to play cajon in the midst of your own full time work and music schedule, you're my forever drummer.

Dad, thank you. You were always an arm's length away with the answer to any question I had, even stepping in to throw together a guitar track to give me something to sing over on a couple of super desperate weeks. Your musicianship is the inspiration of my childhood. And adulthood.

Kenny, thank you for making yourself so available to step in these past few months. I don't take it for granted, you're a fantastic musician and let's work together again soon.

Jessica, thank you for programming for me, and for listening to me talk and whine and babble about this project over and over and over and over again. Let's work together more. You're talented and incredible.

Falicia, Shelby, Eva, Travis, thank you for lending me your voices and musicianship (and support), tracks done with friends are always better than not. You added your own flavor to this project.

Brandon, thank you for guest producing that one song, it was awesome, let's do it again! Maybe it's time to pull out that jazz song?

Rowan, love of my life, be my voice teacher forever.

And to you, anyone who has listened to a single track I've made this year, thank you. Thank you for coming up to me and mentioning the project, for commenting on facebook/instagram/twitter/right here. Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart, for asking me what's next, for supporting me pursuing music. Please continue to support me as I really step into a music career! 

Love (so, so much love),
Greta

week 51: pokemon christmas bash

Yeah, so my friend Travis and I go way back in being goofs, and we took this project way too seriously. For those of you who have never heard the Pokemon Christmas Bash album, it's a super great time and I wholly recommend listening through it as you prepare your hearts this holiday season.

This song features Ash, Misty, Brock, Jessie, James, Meowth, Pikachu, and Squirtle, performed solely by Travis and myself, in an array of voices and emotions.

BONUS: Blooper reel.

Love,
Greta

week 50: not in that way

It's absolutely crazy to be here at week 50, with only two tracks left to make and so many tracks (good and bad) already behind me. I'm happy to be back in the swing of recording, hopefully I'll be able to ride this momentum past the project's end, into new ideas and new songs.

This week's track is Not in That Way by Sam Smith,
Vocals by myself,
Track from Golden Karaoke

Love,
Greta

week 49: how far i'll go

If you haven't seen Moana yet, GO SEE IT!

Why is it that after every movie about adventuring and wayfinding all we want to do is go on our own adventures and write our own stories and why do we feel so inspired? 

Lin Manuel Miranda (known for Hamilton) wrote the music for Moana, and it is lovely and inspiring and rich and I couldn't help diving into this song this week. I wish I had so much more time to dig into this, so maybe after the project is over I'll redo it and make it a bigger deal.

The song is How Far I'll Go from Moana
Vocals by myself
Track from the official Moana soundtrack
 

Love,
Greta

week 48: all i ask

I love this song, I love Adele, I love singing this! I'm planning on finishing out this project before the end of the year (thank God because I really don't think I can take this with me into 2017). I have four songs left after this, and I'm so so so so so so so excited to finish up and start working on other things.

Bear with me as I finish up!

The song is All I Ask by Adele
Vocals by myself
Track from youtube
 

Love,
Greta

*photo by Zoey Jean

week 47: if i ain't got you

Still here! Still trucking! Week 47, I see you (really like week 80 but that's okay). I put together a guilty pleasure song of mine! This song was tricky to record, because I don't understand how to record some parts belting and some parts not and still have an even track? I ended up with one track for non belting and one for yes belting because they had different input levels and blah blah blah it looks like a mess in Logic, but I'm learning. I'll be doing some research about it. But it's time to let this track go and move forward regardless!

The song is If I Ain't Got You by Alicia Keys.
Track found here.

Love,
Greta

week 46: a dream is a wish your heart makes

If you follow me on instagram, you'll know that last week I was in Disney World for a spontaneous trip with my siblings! We love Disney and family vacations were a huge part of our childhood growing up, and now continue to be a part of our adulthood. Like a fine wine, Disney gets better with age. The production value, the attention to detail, the intentional ambiance, it's all so beautiful and truly magical. 

It's been a while since I did a Disney song in this project, so I decided to pull out a short arrangement of one of my favorites. I'm sorry this is so so so short, this was all I had the emotional capacity for. I've got a couple more intense songs coming up in these next couple weeks...enjoy!

The song is A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes from Cinderella,
Vocals by myself,
Backing track from here.

Love,
Greta
 

 

week 45: at last

I love jazz, I love old music, I love Etta James, so this week I pulled out a guilty pleasure song that I like to wail around the house when I'm home alone (or when anybody is home, let's be honest). These next couple tracks will likely be the same, songs I like to wail around the house.

Next week I'm spending a few days in Disney with my siblings, you can follow along on my Instagram.

Enjoy this week's track!

Love,
Greta