Tuesday, December 31, 2013

For the New Year

The media is overflowing today with advice on the New Year. Should one make New Year’s resolutions? How does one stick to them?  Make them obtainable!  I’ve also noticed another, smaller movement, particularly among bloggers, which suggests choosing a word or phrase as one’s theme for the year.  I’m going to try that.

For as long as I can remember my resolutions have been very similar from year to year: exercise more, drop sugar from my diet, take time to smell the roses…you know them, they are probably yours, too.  I enjoy following Always Well Within and when I read Sandra’s post about choosing a word instead of resolutions a word instantly popped into my head: LISTEN.  So that is going to be my goal for the year.

Listen? To the many people I come in contact with each week, from family to students to choir members to the clerk at the supermarket-what are they saying, not what do I want to say to them; to my body, for its needs for exercise, healthy food and rest; to myself, my strong intuition, for what is right for my life at this time; and to the Spirit, or God, for infinite wisdom which simply cannot be described.

I will let you know how it goes.  To group what used to be a long list under one word seems liberating and attainable.

As I think back on 2013 I am filled with gratitude:  for friendships, including time spent with far-flung friends, for my mother’s first trip to Maine in 10 years, for meaningful work, for Emily’s pregnancy, for Bill’s relatively good health at age 80, and for the addition of our dear dog Prudy to our lives.

A Happy New Year to you.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snow Storm

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

      Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Snow Storm

According to the weather woman it was to be a "whopper" of a storm, and she was right.  About a foot of snow has fallen, starting in the night and now combined with gusty winds.  For the first time in a 25-year career as a church musician I was unable to get to work this morning and our service of Advent Lessons and Carols scheduled for this afternoon, has been postponed until tomorrow evening.

What a gift this day is.  Finally, a pause in this hectic season with a chance to decorate the tree, write Christmas cards and make Christmas cookies from scratch.  I am loving every minute.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Big Birthday

 My husband Bill turned 80 on November 16.  It has been several weeks of celebrations, cards, gifts, phone calls and guests.  Emily and Jeff came for the official party, a potluck for 18.  The house was crowded and lively and the food superb.  The actual weekend of the birthday I surprised Bill with a cake at the coffee hour after church.  It gave his many admirers there a chance to congratulate him on this milestone.  And in the meantime our dining table is covered in cards and the phone has been ringing non-stop.

Bill is in excellent shape for his age-I often jokingly attribute that to his marrying a younger wife who won’t let him rest on his laurels.  He exercises, eats well, reads voraciously, teaches a few private ‘cello students and travels.  All good things to keep the mind and body in good shape.  However, 80 is daunting- no ifs, ands or buts, one is firmly planted in old age by this time.

This has been a hard birthday for me; a sobering one, in fact.  I found myself unable to join in the festivities with a light spirit and instead felt more like an observer on the outside looking in.  My usual optimism about the future suddenly included a twinge of fear and foreboding.  I feel like a corner has been turned and the path is now somewhat different.  And my footing is not so sure.

I have been married to Bill for 30 years, over half of my life.  It is a good life, one that I hope will continue for _____ years.  I don’t know how to fill in the blank anymore. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

New Life

I'm going to be a grandmother...early April!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Song for Autumn

In the deep fall
   don't you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
   the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
   freshets of wind? And don't you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
   warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come-six, a dozen-to sleep
   inside their bodies? And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
   the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
   vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
   its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
   the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

                                         Mary Oliver

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Season's End

Summer has come to an end and the garden is just about finished. A few tomatoes are still trying to ripen and there are some squash and herbs making a last noble push in these short days of autumn.  I've frozen three batches of pesto for winter meals and am tired of zucchini.

Also tired of my own cooking, a couple of weeks ago I bought some magazines and chose two new soups to try.  I shopped for the ingredients at the farmers market and set out with high hopes.  The soup above, from Vegetarian Times, has tomatoes, carrots, white beans and kale. Sadly, I am not a fan of this popular wonder-vegetable and I have tried!  I tweaked the recipe and added chicken sausage-it's pretty and healthy and next time I'll use spinach.

To mark the end of summer we had a visit from dear friends Susan and Jay in September.  We lived in Dallas at the same time and have remained in touch through numerous moves on both our parts.  Coming from California they like to eat lobster-in fact, Jay makes a point to have it everyday while in Maine. That suits me just fine and gives us a chance to live it up a bit!  Above, you see Jay working on a lobster risotto.

One of our best inventions was this Lobster Nicoise-we thought we'd made it up but later noticed it on the menu at the Bar Harbor Inn.

What a treat it was to spend time around the dining table with good friends, good conversation, good food and wine.  And now, it feels good to be back to work and in a routine, and that nip in the air is most welcome.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Mother's Visit

In August my mother came to visit for two weeks, the first time in ten years that she’s been able to come to Maine.  For a number of summers she, my dad and aunt came to see us, but as my dad’s health deteriorated they had to stop.  Coming this year alone was no easy thing, starting with the long flight from Dallas which included a frantic change of plane in DC.

My mom is allergic to cats, VERY allergic.  She came to help when Emily was born and ended up in the ER because of a reaction to our cats.  We currently have two beloved cats that spend a lot of time in the house.  Can you imagine the cleaning we had to do?  The rugs and furniture were professionally done, but the rest was grunt work for Bill and me-every surface downstairs-windows, curtains, walls, doors, you name it. Also, our guest room is on the second floor and that was a no go. So we moved furniture, trudging up and down the stairs time and again, and I’m very proud to show you the sunroom transformed for mother.

Our life in Maine is quite different from the life mom lives in Texas.  We did our best to show her the beauties of coastal Maine, introduce her to our friends, and gently expose her to our rather liberal and progressive views.  She had lunch with one of our male friends and his male spouse and I know that was a stretch (handled well).

I saw that she was overwhelmed by the beauty and sense of the spiritual upon entering  St. Saviour’s, much like I was the first time I walked thru the doors.  Of course she went to church services with us as well as to two organ concerts.  People loved her charm and southern accent.

The two weeks that mother was here were exhausting and frustrating and often sobering as I witnessed first-hand her 83 years.  But most of all I felt so very lucky, lucky to have my mom and have her in Maine with me.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Summer Vacation

Late June, the eastern shore of Lake Michigan near Traverse City.  This was my morning walking route.

Jolli Lodge in Leland.  We stayed in a separate cabin on the hill.

Our good friends Mary and Jeff, from Urbana, IL.  They were our neighbors in Dallas over 20 years ago.  Our children went to nursery school together, then we all moved away.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Bill and Jeff and the giant northern white cedar

Sunset from our cottage

I was captivated by the studio of artist and naturalist Gwen Frostic.

Delicious home-cooked meals with good local wine

Me, relaxed and happy

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A New World

In the summers of 1979 and 1981, more years ago than I can wrap my mind around, I worked as Staff Accompanist at the prestigious National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan.  Affectionately known simply as Interlochen, it changed my life.

Twenty-fours years old and reeling from a divorce, I needed a fresh start.  I was a sheltered Southern Baptist girl with a long list of do’s and don’ts who had rarely left her home state of Texas, all of which made me question who I was and what I was doing.

Well, everyone was not Baptist at Interlochen; in fact many were not even Christian.  And yes, that was a shock.  I quickly made friends with other staff and faculty members and we set about solving the world’s problems in addition to going out for beer and polka-dancing. I heard the f-word from one of these friends…and it was ok.  Only a week or two into the summer session I realized with a start that non-Christians can be good people, too…does my naiveté shock you?

This was the time I first talked to a gay man about life in a heterosexual world, what it’s like to tell your parents, how one has to hide it…remember, this is 1979, decades from where we are now.  I ate my first-ever bagel at the canteen, a Lender’s frozen one, no less, and I loved it.

More than this eye-opening, though, Interlochen was about discovering myself as an artist and committing to making music as my life’s work and passion.  I played the piano all day and every evening there, just about working my fingers to the bone.  Sometimes boring, sometimes incredibly challenging.  But I found I could do it, and do it well.  And it was the life I wanted.

I am writing about this now because last week I was there, visiting for the first time in thirty-two years.  It is hard to describe the feeling that came over me when I stepped onto the campus.  The ladies at the information booth were so excited at this alumni’s visit and peppered me with questions…but I only wanted to be quiet, and to hear the sounds around me.  One hears music everywhere: fingers flying in the Schumann piano concerto coming from a stone practice hut, kids practicing their ‘cellos outdoors, a junior choir doing vocal warm-ups with the doors of the studio thrown wide-open.  As we approached the impressive open air auditorium, Kresge, I fought back tears upon hearing the orchestra rehearsing…all of a sudden I was 24 again.

So many memories, so much time passed…

Thank you, Interlochen, for showing me a new world.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chamber Music Intro

Earlier this week two of my young piano students, ages 9 and 10, spent a day at a chamber music festival in Blue Hill.  Based on an earlier audition tape, they received music about eight weeks ago which was to be thoroughly learned by festival day. I gulped when I saw what they were to learn-it was quite a challenge!  But we dove in, section by section, week by week, and they were ready.

Lily played two movements of a Mozart Serenade for strings and keyboard, while Mia performed a Purcell Chaconne for 2 violins and keyboard.  Oh my, was I ever a proud teacher.  Each group marched confidently upon the stage and took a professional bow together.  The girls played on a beautiful Steinway grand in one of the best halls for chamber music in Maine.  And afterwards I cheered for them as if I were at a rock concert.

I can never say what music has meant to me other than it is my life, whether performing, teaching or listening.  I see myself as a youngster in these two girls and take seriously my role in guiding them along this path. What a hopeful and inspiring afternoon, to hear them make music with others.

Bravo, Lily and Mia!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Call of the Wild

It’s back…that recurring and sometimes annoying desire to live in the country.  When I really think about it this wish has been ongoing for much of my adult life-it flares up now and then before I kick it under the bed.  You could say that my coming to Maine 20 years ago was the first acknowledgement, leaving Dallas, a city of a million people, to move to Monmouth, population 3,000.  But even then we lived right in the middle of the tiny downtown, across the street from the post office.

What I have dreamed of, all these years, is a 19th century farmhouse with a barn surrounded by several acres of fields and woods.  A stream bordering the property. A sunny garden space, some berry bushes and a few fruit trees. Chickens.  A cozy house with a woodstove that feels like home.  About half an hour drive to a small city. No mortgage.

Superficially you might think that I’m a city girl.  I love snobby cultural institutions such as art museums, symphonies and lecture series. In the past 20 years, though, I’ve discovered that I can do pretty well making my own culture-a few examples are my Proust group, my project with Bill of listening to all of the Beethoven string quartets, our own foreign movie festivals and many dinner parties with interesting company.  And of course there’s the New York Times.  I find periodic trips to a city gratifying and quite satisfactory, where I soak up all the culture I can muster before happily returning home.

Over the course of our time in Maine we’ve looked at several places just like the above.  Different reasons popped up not to take the plunge-bad timing, lack of courage, or just plain disagreement.

Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Morning Ritual

I love a good cup of coffee…or two…or three…I don’t remember when I started drinking it every day, but I do remember my first cup.  When I was little my mother used to invite church ladies over for meetings and she would let me try a cup, loaded with milk and sugar.  I was probably around 5 or 6, so coffee is one of my earliest memories.

I think I’ve had every possible type of coffee-making gizmo, from the ubiquitous Mr. Coffee maker, percolator, French Press, Melita filter baskets and a kind that made a cold brew that one heated it up in the microwave.  Good flavor, but no aroma!

When we were in Italy last fall I relished every sip of the common cappuccino and came back determined to make something that comes close without spending hundreds of dollars on an espresso machine.  A couple of Christmases ago Emily and Jeff gave me a Biraletti Moka, the Italian poor-man’s espresso maker.  After finally figuring out how to use it, with the help of many a YouTube video, I enjoyed showing off my espresso expertise to guests after dinner.  And then, voila! I realized this was the key to making my morning coffee.

After quite a bit of experimentation this is what I came up with:  fill bottom section with cold water, up to the escape valve (mine holds 10 ounces).  Add 2 rounded tablespoons of finely ground strong coffee, such as French Roast, to the coffee container.  Screw on top and put on a medium high burner for about 8 minutes.  The fun part is watching the coffee come bubbling up into the top section.  While coffee is making I microwave ½ cup of almond milk for 1 minute, then froth it.  This makes 2 small cups of marvelous coffee, very close to what we had in Italy, with pretty foam on top.

I take my cup to the sunroom and sit quietly for a few minutes, trying to empty my mind and start the day truly anew.  Perhaps this could be called meditation or prayer, but I can hardly get started without it.  Then I read a poem or two and I’m ready to work.  Delicious!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years....

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper....

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me....

I am food on the prisoner's plate....

I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills....

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden....

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge....

I am the heart contracted by joy....
the longest hair, white
before the rest....

I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow....

I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit....

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name....

                                     Jane Kenyon, from Things

Saturday, April 27, 2013


My friend Phyllis in Dallas recently sent me this photo from 20 years ago.  It was our first summer to live in Maine year-round and I was proudly showing off both our tomato harvest and new kitchen cabinets.  But I wasn’t quite all here in Maine-can you see that my shirt is an abstract drawing of Big Tex, the iconic mascot of the State Fair of Texas?

That photo brought tears to my eyes because as I stared at it the passage of time really hit me over the head. (My husband kindly commented You don’t look like that anymore.  Thanks, Bill!)  But he is right…sometimes I look in the mirror and hardly recognize my face. It’s more than just physical changes, though.  During the twenty years we’ve been in Maine a daughter has grown up and flown the coop, we have lived in three houses, made many friends and also given up on some, painted lots of walls, grown many gardens…in short, we have lived.

My 58th birthday was earlier this month and it was especially celebratory. Yet at the same time I am aware that I’m approaching the end of a pivotal decade in which I have seen the appearance of many gray hairs, the draining effects of menopause, some intense soul-searching and the loss of loved ones…as well as a sense of purpose, contentment and happiness that I haven’t felt since the early days of raising our daughter. 

Shall we raise a toast to getting older?

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Right Place

“That I am in the right place at present there is no doubt about, as I have found something interesting to work at, in my own field, and time and place and material in which to do it.”

                                                                                    Winslow Homer

I know that feeling…on Palm Sunday, March 24, I conducted The St. Saviour’s Festival Choir and instrumentalists in a performance of Bob Chilcott’s new Requiem.  Premiered in 2010 it is quickly growing in popularity among both choirs and audiences throughout the US and England for good reason.  The work is a requiem of peace and hope and it is comforting, inspiring and uplifting.  The harmony is often modern, but not jarring, and the Sanctus made me feel like dancing on a Caribbean beach.

This work was a challenge for my choir and the few ringers, mostly because it was brand new to everyone.  Two weeks before the performance, to my horror, they acted like they’d never seen the music before. I lay awake for hours that night trying to figure out how to solve the problems.  I must have because it came together beautifully.

The exquisite and unusual instrumentation calls for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, timpani and organ.  The organ is the foundation, the timpani provides drama, and the winds add color. The 24 singers balanced perfectly against the accompaniment in the beautiful setting of St. Saviour’s.

But this is why I know that feeling…standing in front of the performers and a full house I was able to bring the score to life, to convey the meaning of the music from my heart to the hearts of the choir and instrumentalists and on to those in the audience.  The music spoke to us; we were moved.  It was a deeply profound experience, and I am grateful.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


My dear Aunt Dot died on February 18.  A friend’s husband died unexpectedly two weeks ago.  The fathers of two choir members have recently died.  Another choir member’s grandmother died a few days ago.  Last week I played for a funeral and another is on my schedule for this week. It seems I am sending more sympathy than birthday cards and making many arrangements for memorial donations and flowers.

Speaking about the many losses with one of my tenors, we summed it up by agreeing it was the stage of life we are now in.  50’s and 60’s, with the older generation passing on and the occasional death of one of our peers.  It is uncharted territory for me, but perhaps acknowledging it is at least a step in the right direction.

I was grateful when my aunt died-her last few weeks were painful, confusing and humiliating.  In short, not about living.  Her rich life was celebrated at a beautiful Episcopal service by her sister, numerous nieces and nephews, a couple of great-nieces and a few friends.  My cousin and I drank a margarita to her at the lunch afterwards (oh yes, she would have approved whole-heartedly!).  And I will treasure her memory every time I hear opera, visit an art museum or see a foreign movie- thanks, Dot.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

This Is Good

Edamame Hummus

3 cups frozen edamame, thawed and drained
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3-4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini, stirred well before measuring
2-4 tbsp water, to thin as needed
1/2-1 tsp sea salt, to taste
1/4 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Set aside a handful of edamame for garnishing.
2. With motor running on food processor drop in garlic cloves to mince. Add edamame and process until somewhat smooth, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed.
3. Add lemon juice, tahini and water and process until very smooth-this may take a few minutes.          
4. Add salt, cayenne and coriander and process until combined.
5. Garnish with reserved edamame, smoked paprika, freshly ground black pepper and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Serve with crostini, crackers, pita chips and/or crudites.

I served this at a dinner party on Sunday evening-a delicious change from my usual goat cheese and olives.  And in the interest of full disclosure it is not from Joy of Cooking, but it is from my binder!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cooking Simplified, I Hope

True confession…I have 40 cookbooks, give or take a few.  And this is after purging many over the past couple of years.  Until now I thought I just couldn’t help it... I LOVE buying cookbooks, both new and used, and have received many as gifts and even inherited a few.  But I am going to try to stop, or at least slow down.

Although we do have a lot of dinner parties, most of my cooking is just for two.  My favorite suppers are a bowl of homemade soup or a piece of fish with vegetables and salad.  After a day at work I don’t open a book and make a complicated recipe.  Yet that is what is in my library- a plethora of books with recipes that call for lots of ingredients and chopping.  Even the simple, Quick Weeknight Dinners-type takes at least an hour for me to throw together.  And then there is the planning of the week’s meals, my invariably forgetting a few things at the supermarket, and trying to figure out when I’ll have the time to make something and should I double it for leftovers?  It just seems like too much trouble.

So I’m going to experiment for the month of February and see if I can simplify by using just one cookbook. After the holidays I brought back my aunt’s copy of the 1997 edition of Joy of Cooking.  It is virtually untouched and she has no need for it anymore. Yes, I do have a Joy of Cooking, 1975 edition, but I’m giving it to the library book sale.  It has some notes in it, such as made this for playgroup 1988 (Butterscotch Brownies) but all the same I’m not keeping it. The later edition is truly updated, with more uses for tofu and the like, and it has plenty of ideas for soups and fish.

In addition to the above mentioned cookbooks I also have a large three-ring binder stuffed with tried and true recipes that I’ve cut out from magazines and newspapers or received from friends.  I also have a folder overflowing with more clippings of things I want to try.  Too much!  Perhaps I might cheat a little and use my binder, but that’s it, I promise.

Check back in a month to see how the one cookbook experiment worked.  And for those of you who can just open the fridge and throw something together, I’m jealous.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Welcome, Prudence!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

China Road

When I first married in 1975 most couples registered at a department store for formal china, silver and crystal.  The simple look of a silver band around a cream background of Lenox’s Solitaire appealed to me then and still does.  Since I was preparing to be a “preacher’s wife” my mother insisted that I needed 12 place settings and by golly that’s what I got. Fancy dinners with church members and deacons were in my future.

The Solitaire lasted longer than the marriage and I carted it around with me for over 30 years.  Even when I was single I’d unpack it in every apartment and use it for dinner parties.  All twelve place settings.  And it became the china that Bill and I used for Christmas, Thanksgiving and the like.  I just loved it.

Shortly before Emily and Jeff were married I used the china for a meal when they were visiting.  In the back of my mind I’d been thinking of giving it to them, but truthfully I was having a very hard time letting it go.  But I mustered the courage to ask if they might like it and the answer was an unequivocal Yes! I packed it up and the day after their wedding they loaded it into their car and took it to DC.

Bill and I had Thanksgiving dinner with them this year and there was my china, looking ever-so-beautiful in its new home.  I sort of like the idea that it started out Baptist and converted to Judaism.

Of course I still have the Waterford crystal and Gorham sterling…

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Aunt Dot

She is like a horse grazing
a hill pasture that someone makes
smaller by coming every night
to pull the fences in and in.

She has stopped running wide loops,
stopped even the tight circles.
She drops her head to feed; grass
is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.

Master, come with your light
halter.  Come and bring her in.

            In the Nursing Home by Jane Kenyon

My dear Aunt Dot is having a rough time of it.  Almost 90 and never married, she recently had to move to a nursing home in the Dallas area.  She is not just an ordinary aunt, but someone who has had a profound and lasting influence on my life.  While visiting her last week I reminded her of all that we have in common, which includes a love of reading, travel, movies and opera, devotion to the Episcopal Church, and a taste for wine.  But what I meant to say to her was Thank you, Dot, for opening my eyes to a big beautiful world and for taking me along on your journey.