Saturday, December 27, 2014


May you enter into the Christmas liturgies with some joy in the Incarnation.  This was how my advisor in the Shalem Institute program signed his recent email in response to my request for extra time to write a paper.  It stopped me dead in my tracks….joy was the absolute last thing I was experiencing.

Every December is difficult for a church musician.  There are so many expectations, extra services, needy church members, sick or out-of town choristers, weather problems…the list goes on and on.  Although I don’t understand why, this December was particularly hard for me.  Musically things went very well, but I just ran out of steam. Joy at the coming of God to earth?  Maybe next year.

And then, something happened…at the last of the Christmas Eve services, late at night, I unexpectedly saw the Incarnation in the soloist who sang off key. And then I saw it in the intrepid choir members, singing their hearts out way past their bedtime.  During the sermon, as I was gazing at the beautiful poinsettias and candles, I took my husband’s hand and saw it in his patience and kindness to me.  I looked further into the congregation, some weary, some merry, and yes, I saw the spirit of God in each and every one. The stress and non-stop schedule of the past few weeks began to melt away and I felt joy.

And the next day, Baby Zev arrived for a visit. As I wrapped my arms around him I saw clearly… Incarnation.

The embodiment of a deity or spirit in some earthly form.  Thank you, Winston, for urging me to find joy in this season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Personal Advent

For most of the western world the Christmas season is in full swing.  Decorations, music and ads have been appearing since Halloween and the frenzy of holiday shopping was encouraged by Black Friday, Small-Store Saturday, Cyber Monday and even Giving Tuesday, of all things.  Many folks lament this commercialization, as do I, and I try not to be a part of it. 

Many years ago, full of loneliness and confusion after a divorce, I was headed home across north Texas on Christmas Eve.  The radio was playing- there were precious few stations to choose from- and of all things I heard the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel for the first time.  At that moment I fell head-over-heels in love with Advent.

Growing up as a Southern Baptist I’d never even heard the term Advent, much less observed it as a holy season.  There was nary a single Advent hymn in our hymnal at that time and the church Christmas tree and poinsettias went up the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  This idea of waiting, of expectation and hope, filled a need in my soul, and still does.  Now a church musician and an Episcopalian, Advent has become my favorite sacred season.  No church decorations or Christmas carols until after the fourth Sunday of Advent for us, just the way I like it.  And twenty-four Advent hymns, yes, that’s correct, twenty-four.

I am feeling this season more profoundly than ever this year because I believe that I am in the midst of a personal Advent, one that will likely last for months or even a few years.  As I approach my 60th birthday, as my church continues to struggle, as my new grandson grows and changes daily, and as my husband enters a new stage, we must decide where we want to make our life.  Do we stay in Maine, which has become our comfortable home, or do we move closer to family, to share our lives with theirs more fully? It is a decision which should not be forced and which I am confidant will be revealed, in due season.  In the meantime, we wait.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

                                      Latin, ca. 9th century

Monday, December 1, 2014


What is there beyond knowing that keeps 
calling to me? I can't

turn in any direction
but it's there. I don't mean

the leaves' grip and shine or even the thrush's
silk song, but the far-off

fires, for example,
of the stars, heaven's slowly turning

theatre of light, or the wind
playful with its breath;

or time that's always rushing forward,
or standing still

in the same-what shall I say-

What I know
I could put into a pack

as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it
on one shoulder,

important and honorable, but so small!
While everything else continues, unexplained

and unexplainable. How wonderful it is
to follow a thought quietly

to its logical end.
I have done this a few times.

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out.  Life so far doesn't have any other name
but breath and light, wind and rain.

If there's a temple, I haven't found it yet.
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass and the weeds.

What Is There Beyond Knowing (Mary Oliver)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


A few weeks ago I spent several precious days with my grandson, who is 6-months old today. It's true what they say: grandparenting is special indeed.  I confess that I used to silently roll my eyes when friends would enthuse about their grandchildren and think to myself something like Oh, get a life!  I try to remember those feelings as I pull out my iphone with its hundreds of photos of Zev to show to anyone who asks.

My first assignment on the recent trip was to take care of baby while Emily had her haircut.  The 3 of us took the Metro downtown and Zev and I went to the American Art Museum while Emily was at the hairdresser.  And boy was he fussy!. He did not want to be in the stroller and his piercing cries in the atrium drew many dark looks.  He did, however, enjoy being in my arms and looking around at the art.  All in all, though, not an auspicious beginning for my grandson-sitting days.

Fussy or not, those few days were happily spent together-bath time, silly playtime, bedtime routine, an occasional bottle-just getting to know each other better.  And, of course, the first piano lesson.

Your Nana loves you, Baby Zev.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Season's End

After several weeks of an extraordinary display of fall colors, our trees are now shedding their leaves as winter approaches.  The dark and the cold are just around the corner.  Our garden produced admirably this year, except for the summer squash.  Have you ever even heard of summer squash not producing?  Well, ours were a wipe-out and I didn't once open my entirely squash cookbook.

Bill is the vegetable gardener and I am the cook and preserver.  His specialty is garlic and about 60 heads of the Russian variety are stored for soups, stews, stir-fries, you name it.  We even send some to appreciative friends in California.  And then there are the tomatoes-cherries, slicing and Romas.

This batch is ready to be made into pasta sauce, which I freeze.  It makes a wonderful meal on a cold winter's eve.  Bill gets his yearly quota of bacon with day after day of BLT's and eats the cherries right from the bush.  Me? Well, I only like my tomatoes cooked-that's too bad, but I've tried and it just doesn't work.

This is my first ever batch of ratatouille, made from our tomatoes and garlic, with squash, onions and eggplant from the farmers' market.  Yum.

And then of course there is the basil.  This year I made three recipes of pesto and socked it away in the freezer.  It will last until the spring if I'm careful.  My favorite way to use it is as a topping for salmon or white fish.  You can even buy less expensive frozen fish if you prepare it this way and it tastes great.

We still have many carrots and beets in the garden and they only get sweeter as the fall progresses. And we have a bumper crop of arugula, which loves cool weather-twice I've taken it to choir rehearsal and given away bunches and bunches.

How lucky we are- a bounty from our garden to sustain us during the cold, frozen winter months.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Earlier this month, after weeks of house guests and performances, Bill and I boarded a ferry in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, for an hour-and-a-half ride to Grand Manan Island. Although one can see its majestic tall cliffs from the coast of Maine it is actually part of Canada. The area is home to many species of birds, whales, seals and the like. About twenty miles long, Grand Manan was once a thriving hub of fishermen and dulce harvesters.  But now the two thousand or so hospitable and friendly inhabitants just try to get by however they can.

The east side of the island is mostly beach and marsh.  Our simple housekeeping cottage looked out over a scene much like the above.  We had happy hour on a bench near the water every evening and watched the ferry come and go.

We explored by car and foot for two days, ate simply and rested.  There are many spectacular hiking trails, an interesting museum and a few shops.  It was exactly what I needed.

Each time I come back from a vacation such as this (even though it was short) I wonder why do I work so much?  The simple answer is we need the money for recurring living expenses and retirement.  And I keep trying to figure out how to lower those expenses so that I can have more time. I want that desperately yet there's no easy answer.

We are planning a return trip to Grand Manan next summer, for a week.

Monday, August 25, 2014


The beautiful Maine summer is beginning to wind down- the shadows are long, the evenings cool, and I can no longer begin my after dinner walk at 7:30. The gardening I hoped to accomplish, the hikes I wanted to take, swimming in a lake, cleaning out the attic…most of that is still undone.  I am tired, travel weary and a bit untethered.

Despite my love of seeing the world I am a homebody at heart.  My favorite evenings are spent with my husband quietly reading, watching a movie, knitting or listening to music with a dog by my side and two cats stretched out nearby.  There has been a pitiful lack of these evenings this summer.  I likewise cherish rainy days and the chance to clean out a closet or organize my recipes or, heaven forbid, crawl into bed with a good book. But this summer I have been on the road or practicing or working or...

I am not necessarily complaining, just noticing…in many ways it has been a stellar season.  An inspiring American Guild of Organists convention in Boston, time with family and friends in Dallas, recharging my church music batteries at the Episcopal Musicians Conference in TN, accompanying Poulenc’s Gloria for the Mount Desert Summer Chorale, a recital of organ duets and solos with my friend Ellen.

But I feel a change coming...

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Simple Summer Supper

On these sticky summer days I like to make a salad for supper.  And with our garden and local farmers market in full swing it's easy and healthy.  Last night I improvised on a recipe I'd seen on line and this is what I came up with:

Mediterranean Salad
serves two

several handfuls of mixed greens
one hard boiled egg
cucumber slices
avocado slices
red bell pepper
kalamata olives
one can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Arrange the above ingredients as you like (you can see my composed version above), drizzle with homemade balsamic vinaigrette and enjoy. Serve with a glass of dry red wine. Cantaloupe makes the perfect dessert.

Any salad ideas from you readers?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Early Summer

White peonies blooming along the porch
send out light

while the rest of the yard grows dim.

Outrageous flowers as big as human
heads! They're staggered
by their own luxuriance: I had
 to prop them up with stakes and twine.

The moist air intensifies their scent,
and the moon moves around the barn
to find out what it's coming from.

In the darkening June evening
I draw a blossom near, and bending close
search it as a woman searches
a loved one's face.

Peonies at Dusk, Jane Kenyon

Sunday, June 15, 2014


For God alone my soul in silence waits;
From him comes my salvation.
(Psalm 62)

In the midst of getting to know my new grandson I attended a week-long residency for my class on contemplative prayer, offered by the Shalem Institute. To say that both these experiences were transformative is not exaggerating one bit. The miracle of new birth combined with a spiritual experience of great depth and meaning has given me a new lens through which to look at life.

Not knowing a single person or really what I was getting into, I was quite anxious about the residency, held at a retreat center west of Baltimore.  But when I walked into the first session I realized that the other 21 students felt just like me.  The anxiety lasted about 5 minutes-I quickly saw that we all spoke the same language.

Each day included a seminar on such topics as leadership, prayer forms and contemplative awareness. We met daily with a small peer group where we “practiced” leading a particular form of prayer and made and received comments from our leader and the other members. We shared good food together as well as walks by the meditation pond or on trails thru the surrounding woods. There was no hiding-we talked one-on-one and in larger groups about our deepest beliefs, hopes and disappointments.  And there was plenty of opportunity to be alone and quiet if one so desired.

In the midst of the residency there was a 36-hour period of total silence.  We still ate together, met in seminars (led by a leader who was talking) and even danced our hearts out.  But we were silent.  I relaxed into this time with myself, and truthfully, it was wonderful.  I noticed the ordinary and treasured the common.

I want to explain a bit about prayer forms-this has been new to me.  A prayer form is simply a way to help one grow closer to the Spirit and listen-it is similar to meditation, with the intent of drawing near to God.  The prayer forms serve as ways to help calm and clear a cluttered mind.  One can use a particular word, chant, icon or interior image.

In leading my peer group I chose to use thanksgiving as my prayer form. Reminding the group members of Paul’s admonition to be thankful in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18) I asked them to say “thank you” to each thought that came into their minds, whether positive or negative, then to let it go.  Yes, it is easy to be grateful for the good in our lives, but what about the bad?  This prayer is not gratitude for the bad but a way of showing us that something good can come from a tragedy, a loss, a death.  But how can the death of a loved one contain anything to be thankful for, you might ask?  Perhaps your loved one was spared agonizing pain by dying or perhaps estranged family members drew closer. This is what is meant by thanksgiving in all things.

Returning to my everyday life after the residency was not easy.  Stacks of bills, piles of paper, flower beds full of weeds-all vying for my attention. Yet I am trying to carry this marvelous idea of contemplation with me as I live each day. I feel that I am on a bridge, leaving behind the tendency to control and demand and heading toward a profound sense of peace and acceptance.

My soul waits quietly for you
From you comes my deliverance

         (Zen-inspired translation of Psalm 62 by Norman Fischer)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Baby's Bris

 Yes, that would be as in circumcision….and not in the hospital, but at a private home.  Exactly eight days after Baby Zev’s birth his bris took place.  Many friends of Emily and Jeff’s, along with their young children, as well as three grandparents and an aunt were in attendance.  Rabbi Shira was there along with the mohel, the person professionally trained to perform the procedure.  She was an ob/gyn, which gave me some comfort!

The baby was laid on a small table with Grandpa Marty in charge of holding his legs down.  Zev had been given a local anesthetic and a few drops of wine were ceremonially placed on his lips.  I turned my back as the circumcision began and in a few short seconds baby was crying and it was all done.  Emily nursed him and he then slept for a long time.  It was somewhat traumatic for a number of us, including the baby, but ultimately the meaning of the ceremony won out over the pain for me.

Rabbi Shira led the naming ceremony for Zev  and offered numerous prayers and blessings.  The prayers sounded oddly familiar and reminded me very much of baptismal prayers.  We were asked to pledge our support for the parents and our love and care for the baby as he grows.  A celebratory feast of bagels, lox, cheese, fruit and wine followed.

Most of my life I have lived as part of the majority, but this afternoon I found myself in the minority, looking in.   I felt respected, welcomed and embraced as someone from outside this Jewish world.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Spring Walk

I awoke this morning to the unwelcome companions of aggravation and annoyance.  Family, friends, pets, unwashed dishes, laundry waiting to be folded, piles of correspondence, myself-it didn't matter, I was annoyed.  So on a cold and windy spring day I put Prudy in the car and drove to one of my favorite walks in the town of Hancock, about 10 miles away.  The trail follows an old rail bed and meanders thru beautiful forest for several miles. Prudy and I had it to ourselves and we walked about a mile to where the trail crosses a quiet tidal cove.

It seems I haven't been outdoors for months and months.  I was cold this winter and could rarely make myself don down jacket, scarf, hat, gloves and boots for a substantial walk.  Perhaps I was lazy, too.  But this morning got me on the right track and I came home renewed and right with the world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Counting the Days

Thank you, dear grandson, for waiting until after Easter to make your appearance in this world. Anytime is fine now; I can't wait to meet you.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Something New

For as long as I can remember I have prayed.  Growing up as a Southern Baptist in the Bible Belt my prayers tended to be either asking God for something or trying to make a deal.  This selfish, shallow and ultimately meaningless type of prayer has been a hard habit to break, despite my having left the Baptist church decades ago.  But being the restless spirit that I am, I’ve kept on trying and searching.

A few years ago I began hearing bits and pieces, here and there, about something called contemplative prayer.  Little did I know that there was an entire movement just waiting for me to discover.  I stumbled upon a gem of a book, Zen for Christians, by Kim Boykin, and voilá, I was onto something. But how to find out more?

A casual conversation with a summer parishioner a couple of years ago led me to the Shalem Institute in Washington, DC. Please check out their website and you’ll understand why I became so excited that I could hardly contain myself.  I knew that I had found something to help me along this new path. 

What is contemplation?  Classical spiritual authors use the term to mean a sheer experience of loving presence.  A simple definition could be “loving presence to what is.”  For Christians it is finding God in all things and all things in God. For so many years this was the religion I wanted and instinctively felt in my heart; I just didn’t know how to verbalize it.  And to find out that many, many others feel the same way- my spirit is now free and bounding thru space at this discovery.

In February I began a 16-month course thru Shalem called Transforming Community:  Leading Contemplative Groups and Retreats.  The work consists of an extensive reading list, a dedicated daily prayer time, work with a spiritual director, writing, two residencies and the leadership of my own contemplative prayer group. It is time-consuming, daunting and expensive…and I am thrilled to be doing it.

Will I someday make this my life’s work?  Will I give up being a church musician, a piano teacher?  I don’t think so.  I don’t know where this is leading, but right now I’m doing it for me.

Somehow I will banish those Southern Baptist remnants!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Welcome to the 80's

So said my mother to Bill upon his return home from the hospital.  Thanks to the encouragement of several choir members Bill and I arrived at the Ellsworth hospital emergency room shortly after church on Sunday.  And not a moment too soon-he was one sick man.  Pneumonia, flu and a surprising diagnosis of diabetes.  At age 80 my husband spent his first night ever in a hospital.

Hospitals are humbling.  The straight talk about bodily functions, the dire situations of many patients, the presence of death.  And the tremendous amount of trust that goes into turning one’s beloved over to the hands of others…that, too, is humbling.

This was a good time to live in a small town.  The doctor on duty was Bill’s primary physician, our neighbor, and the father of two of my former students.  The next day doctor was both my friend and piano student as well as the mother of two of my young piano pupils.  Bill received very personal care from doctors who know and like him and even the cell phone number of one of them, to use if necessary.

My husband is home now, adjusting to new medications, routines and diet.  We have received a reminder, duly noted, of the importance of each other, our family and our friends. And of the great gift of health.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to Survive a Maine Winter

Toulouse, stretched out on a warm radiator

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My Life in Paris

Well, one glorious week that is...Bill and I went the last week of January, during the heart of the French winter.  We took our LL Bean down coats, hats and gloves and the 44 degrees felt downright balmy to us. The upside was that there were no crowds; the only place we stood in line was at the Louvre.

One can't spend time in Paris without walking, a lot.  It was one of my favorite things about the trip after being cooped up for months during our current Maine winter.  During our walks we stumbled upon two beautiful outdoor markets...vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, bread, you name it.  The only thing missing was processed food, unless you count the foie gras.

Several weeks before our trip we began watching a series of DVD's about the Louvre: Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre by Rick Bretell.  Wow, were they ever helpful.  The first time I visited the Louvre, a few years ago, I became so frustrated at trying to find my way around that I sat down on a bench and cried.  I was ready this time, with a list of paintings I wanted to see and a good idea of where they were located.

The best thing about our time in Paris was sharing the trip with our dear friends Susan and Jay from California.  Having spent much time in Paris and knowing the language well, they were superb tour guides and companions.

What would a trip to Paris be without music?  A solo piano recital in an 18th century church, the Paris Conservatory Orchestra, Faure's Requiem at La Madeleine (where he worked) and marvelous organ playing by Daniel Roth at Sunday Mass at St. Sulpice.  Just imagine...the postlude was an improvisation on the day's readings.

And of course there is the food.  Croissants for breakfast, French onion soup and salad with salmon and artichokes for lunch, omelettes, croques monsieurs, and lovely dinners of fish and chicken on top of pasta. Baguettes, fruit tarts, chocolate.  But don't forget, we were walking miles every day!

A fun discovery was this tiny, quaint shop, L"Autre Monde, just down the street from our hotel in Saint-Germain.  It specialized in all things Baroque, including recordings and books about music and art, some in English.

And last, but certainly not least, the coffee.  How I love Parisian coffee- I think I may have become something of a cafe-au-lait expert. The waiter brings a cup and saucer with a small amount of very strong coffee and a stainless pitcher of whole milk heated to just the right degree.  He then pours the milk into the coffee right in front of you, finishing off with a bit of a whirl.  One does not order a coffee to go and don't even think of asking for artificial sweetener.

I loved every minute and my soul was fed by art and music and beauty and companionship. I am grateful.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How Can I Help?

My dear students Lily and Eva have lost their mother.  She died right before Christmas after a valiant struggle with cancer.

Five days after she died Lily and Eva, with their dad, came to their regularly scheduled piano lessons.  How I was dreading seeing them that first time!  I just didn’t know what I could possibly say.  So I didn’t say anything; I just wrapped them in my arms. Two precious girls, ages 11 and 8, and their mother is dead. (I previously wrote about Lily in July 2012.)

In turn they each sat down to play, and play they did, from the heart.  After a few minutes,  Lily, the older girl, said I don’t feel so good, can I lie down?  There is a soft rug next to the piano and she stayed there for a short while.  She came back to the piano, played a bit, and the same thing happened again…and again.  She will be the one who takes this death the hardest.

I have asked their father many times what can I do to help? His answer is always the same:  Just keep teaching them how to make music. So in that regard I guess I’m one of the lucky ones; there is actually something I CAN DO. 

Many years ago an adult student gave me a beautiful picture book called Rondo in C.  A young girl with beautiful long dark hair (like Lily) is playing this work by Beethoven at a recital and the author shows what memories it recalls for several audience members.  It is a book that simply speaks to the power of music.  I took it off my shelf, wrapped it in pretty paper and sent it to Lily and Eva.  In signing the book I told them how playing the piano can bring happy memories of their mother.  How I hope this is true for them.

Ann Patchett, in her new collection of essays, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, says something comforting about untimely death: The truth is that every life ends.  The quality of a life is defined not by its length, but by its depth, its actions and achievements.  It is defined by our ability to love.  

Lily and Eva’s mother loved them with every ounce of her being, until the very end.  May that love sustain them in their new life.