Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cherry Amour Therapy

"Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer." -  Leonardo Da Vinci


Fleurs De Cerise (Cherry Blossom) - Oil on canvasEmile Vernon, 1916, private collection

I'm heading to Washington, D.C. this morning to catch up with two friends, Reya and Linda, and fill a prescription for a little Cherry Amour therapy. That's Reya's way of describing the effects of the Cherry Blossom Festival this time of year in her corner of the world.

The Japanese cherry trees were given as a gift to the city of Washington, D.C. by the mayor of Tokyo, Mr. Yukio Ozaki exactly 99 years and two days ago, March 27, 1912.

That is so cool.

This trip has been in the works for several weeks now, and I thought it would be a fun frolic with a couple of girlfriends, laughing and walking in the warm D.C. sunshine, and taking hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures of the annaul spectacle of spring.

I had no idea what was in store for me.

I see now that it is no coincidence that these two trips, one to see The Graceful One perform last weekend, and one to dance among the cherry blossoms with my friends, were perfectly arranged to follow the death of my mother.

What was to be a celebration of a great performance turned into a chance to hold my child and grieve with her for the loss of her dear grandmother. To be able to be with her, see her for myself, and share tears and hugs and memories with her was healing therapy for myself as well.

And now, to have the chance to be among the trees and friends and art and music and all that is a part of Reya's city is healing beyond belief. Cherry Amour therapy, it certainly is.

In truth, the weather forecast calls for rain, but that's of little consequence to me. I feel that the three of us will be given all that is needed for our time together, be it rain, or snow, or sun.  I'm extremely grateful to Reya for coordinating this.

I'm not bringing my laptop, and I won't be posting until I get home late Saturday. Instead, I'll spend my time marveling at the wonders of nature (in whatever form), the wonders of friendship, and the wonders of these great synchronicities we all get to experience every so often.

Today, I wish you your own version of Cherry Amour therapy.

The music selection today was very difficult. Should I go with something Japanese? (Truthfully, most of it grates on my nerves.) Something about cherry blossoms? (There are a few, but they're mostly love songs...too trite.) I finally decided to stop wrestling and choose something from my go-to guy, Chopin.

In honor of the predicted rain, I have chosen Chopin's "Raindrop" Prelude in D flat Major, Op.28 No.15. It's the longest of all his preludes, and is a lovely study on the comfort of rain. 

Chopin wrote this while he was staying at a monastery, convalescing from what we now believe was most likely tuberculosis. Chopin worried constantly about his wife and son, but playing the piano offered relief from the anxiety.

He was reportedly hypnotized by the sound of the rain on the roof one day, and wrote this prelude as a result. It's quite beautiful...listen for the repeating constant A-flat eighth notes pitter-pattering in the bass, sounding like the rain on Chopin's roof tiles and downspouts.

This version is played by my favorite pianist, Vladimir Ashkenazy. I love his tempo, his expression, and the way he allows the rain to wash over us all. Enjoy. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Convalescence of Grief

''Healing,'' Papa would tell me, ''is not a science, but the intuitive art of wooing nature.''
- W. H. Auden

The Convalescent (Zeffy in Bed) - Oil on canvas
 Lillian Hale, 1906

It’s been one week since my mother flew away on the supermoon. At least that’s the way I like to think of it, her soul lifting up out of her now-unnecessary body, soaring upward to alight on the gleaming giant moon, looking down at the glory of Gaia’s earth, then moving on to realms unknown.

Or maybe her departure was more like the explosion of fireworks, with tiny sparkling shards of her soul arching out in all directions , lighting up the heavens, some of them piercing into her family and friends’ hearts as the true “final resting place.” Who can know for sure?

What I do know with certainty is that I have barely begun the grieving process, and I need to be gentle with myself. I’ve been through the process before (who at my age hasn’t?), and there is no set time frame for healing to occur. I have no expectations but to allow the process to unfold as it will, feel what I must feel when the feelings arise, cry the tears I must cry when they erupt, and endure the pain that I am sure to encounter along the way.

Already I have reached for the phone several times, thinking it’s time for me to check in with Mom, when I remember that she won’t be on the other end of the line. It’s a strange and sad feeling.

When my husband insisted soon after our marriage over 35 years ago that we move to his hometown (ancient, pre-cell phone days), I acquiesced, though secretly I felt as if he was moving me to the other side of the world, rather than the other side of the state. I had not, at that point, traveled much in my entire life, and my roots had grown deep and spread wide and set firmly in the soil of my hometown. I agreed to yank myself up, roots and all, on one condition. He could not complain about the long distance phone bill. Ever. To anyone. Especially to his family. He agreed.

To my knowledge, he never did. I spoke with my mother frequently…not every day, but at least once a week at first. Then, as I went through pregnancies and childbirths and illnesses and injuries and birthdays and first dentist appointments and first soccer practices and first days of school and such, I was calling more frequently.

By the time I found myself with three little boys under the age of five, I was speaking to Mom every day. Of course I would. After all, she had raised four boys of her own, so there wasn’t much that she didn’t know about these feral beings and how to tame them. Oh, yeah. She was so wise. [If you want to read some of her “mom-isms” you can read them HERE.]

Mind you, she rarely called me. In fact, she rarely called any of her children. If the phone rang and her number popped up on caller ID, I was sure that either it was my birthday, or there was an emergency. She was the kind of mother who never meddled in her children’s business, never inserted herself in their plans, and never played the martyr. The truth is, she had a busy, productive life of her own outside of her children, and so maybe…now that I think of it…just maybe, she enjoyed her freedom from us!

At any rate, I never felt pressured to call her. I simply loved her company, her great good humor, her sage advice, and her attention. After all, I was one of six children, so it was with no small measure of satisfaction that as an adult I discovered that the best way to bask in my mother’s undivided attention was to speak with her on the phone.

As her health declined and my trips to check on her increased, our phone conversations waned (she never could get the hang of her hearing aid), but we still laughed a lot during our conversations. I loved making Mom laugh, and she certainly knew how to tickle my funny bone.

Even in the final weeks of her life, I would regale her with stories (complaints) about my routine experiences (problems) with everyday life (family), and soon we would both be laughing. She looked at me once on a recent visit, held my hands in hers, and said to me, “you are such a funny girl.”

“Funny, “ha-ha”, or funny, “odd?” I asked, which set her laughing again.

“Funny, “ha-ha,” she assured me, to which I asked her, “Now where would I get that trait?”

She released my hands, put both her thumbs in the air, and pointed them at herself, which of course, tickled me pink.

Yes, I think I will need some time to adapt to the quiet mornings without the phone conversations with my mother.

I guess I'll do what we usually do while healing...lie in bed a while longer than usual, get fresh air, breathe deeply, and carefully nourish my body.  Like caring for a convalescent, I'll give myself a little extra TLC.

It'll be nice...it just won't be as fun.

Today, I wish for you a great conversation with one you love.

Today's music selection is the aria, "Song to the Moon" from the opera "Rusalka" by Antonin Dvorak. I'm sorry to say that this beautiful version has no English credits to share with you. I assume this singer is Korean, though I may be mistaken, but there is no mistaking the gorgeous talent she holds.

In this aria, a water nymph, Rusalka, sings to the moon that the moon might hear her desire to find the prince she loves.  I especially love Dvorak's lyrics beseeching the moon;

Silver moon upon the deep dark sky
Through the vast night pierce your rays
This sleeping world you wander by
Smiling on men's homes and ways
Oh moon 'ere past you glide, tell me 
Tell me, oh where does my loved one bide?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Good Traveler

"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving." - Lao Tzu

In the Train Compartment, Paul-Gustave Fischer
Oil on panel, c. 1900 
Wow. Remember when traveling was like that? A lady dressed in stockings and heels, a lovely frock and a sweet chapeau. A gentlemen dressed in suit and tie, and always...always wore a hat. The huge bouquet of flowers was optional, of course, but quite a nice touch if the gentleman was so inclined.

No? You don't remember? Well, neither do I, but I definitely remember when traveling was more fun and exciting than it is today.

I leave this morning for the eastern seaboard to visit the Graceful One, and I love going places. I just don't love the process so much any more.

Lao Tzu would consider me a bad traveler these days, because I am nothing if not intent on arriving...today. Yesterday, if possible.

I know what may happen. Security, delays, snow, sleeping air traffic controllers (yikes!)...but I'm intent on arriving, so I'll be patient. I hope.

Today, I wish for you a day of smooth sailing.

Music today is from Edvard Grieg and his "Morning Mood" from Peer Gynt. I love it because it's full of the majestic patience of the dawning sun. Just what I need today. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Great Escape

“Anyone who has a child today should train him to be either a physicist or a ballet dancer. Then he'll escape.” - W. H. Auden

Lithograph, Pas de Quatre,  by A. E. Chalon, 1845
Carlotta Grisi (left), Marie Taglioni (center),
Lucille Grahn (right back), and Fanny Cerrito (right front)
 Theatre Museum (Victoria & Albert Museum)

I guess you could say the same idea applies to balletomanes (fans of ballet). We often feel as if we've escaped into a beautifully ethereal world when we sit in the audience of a ballet production.

It's sometimes miraculous and poignant the way things work out. The Graceful One is performing with her ballet company this weekend, something I feared I would miss while tending to my mother. Of course, I knew  my place would rightly be by my mother's side, but the mother in me also yearned to be with my daughter for this special performance.

This season's final production is a repertory program, and the Graceful One will be dancing in four of the pieces. They all have different style and feel, from Broadway to contemporary to classical, but one of them is just, well...more significant. It's a dream come true for a classical ballerina.

The Graceful One will perform in "Pas de Quatre" an historic ballet first performed in 1845. For the very first time, it presented on one stage the four greatest ballerinas of that era. Though there is much speculation about the contentious behavior between the four of them offstage, there is no doubt that the production, which debuted at His Majesty's Theatre in London, was a sensation which has survived the centuries. It is an honor to be cast in any ballet with only four characters, and a great honor to be cast as Marie Taglioni, who was considered to be the matriarch of the four "queens of ballet". The Graceful One will dance the role of Taglioni.

What begins as a lovely tableau of the four ballerinas, slow but effulgent in its beauty, becomes a subtle competition to show themselves to be equal, if not superior to, one another. They bow respectfully to one another, but there is an unspoken challenge with each bow...let's see if you can top that.

The emphasis in this ballet is not on modern day 'tricks' of showy power or speed, but on precision, perfect placement, and fast footwork. Each movement must end as precisely as it begins. Each balance must be secure. While the upper body is serene and delicate, the lower body is working overtime.   

With the distance between the Graceful One's city and Kansas City, and her responsibilty to attend the intense rehearsals before a major production, it was impossible for her to be with her grandmother during her last days. Instead, she left a beautiful voicemail message on my phone for her grandmother, telling her how much she loved her and missed her, and that her performances this weekend would be dedicated to her. I held the phone to my mother's ear as I played the voicemail for her. Though Mom was rarely responsive at that point, she opened her eyes wide and knew immediately who was speaking to her. After the message, she closed her eyes and smiled.

Yes, I'm thrilled to be escaping to the beautiful world of ballet for a few days. A dear friend from NYC will fly up to join us, and we'll celebrate with him as well. He lost his own mother just a few months ago, and so I know we will comfort one another as we both enjoy the escape.

Best of all, my mother, who was unable to see her dear granddaughter perform for the last few years, has escaped as well. I'm sure she'll have the best seat in the house as she watches the Graceful One perform the role of a lifetime.

Here is a bit of the second half of "Pas de Quatre" which was performed in 1968 by Lyudmila Kovaleva (Lucille Grahn), Gabriela Komleva (Carlotta Grisi), Yelena Yevteyeva (Fanny Cerrito) & Lyubov Galinskaya (Marie Taglioni). Music by Cesare Pugni, and Choreography by Anton Dolin after Jules Perrot. When you tire of watching the beautiful faces and upper bodies, watch the incredibly precise footwork. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tea Time with the Queen

My heart is like a singing bird...

Because the birthday of my life

Is come, my love is come to me. - Christine Rossetti

Tea - George Dunlop Leslie
Oil on  canvas laid down on board, 1894

My  precious granddaughter, Little Beauty, turns five years old today, which calls for a truce in the warring emotions entangled in the grief process.

Today, I will set aside my sadness for a while and celebrate the birth of this sweet, charming, sometimes-stubborn, always-amazing, beautiful child who entered my life five years ago.

She makes it easy to forget my troubles. As children do, she can evoke a smile with her hug, a laugh with her questions, and like me, she enjoys dressing up and going out on the town.

So today, Little Beauty and I plan on donning our fanciest frocks and arriving in style for a tea party at Miss Aimee B's Tea Room in historic St. Charles. I'm pretty sure we'll turn a few heads, which will not embarrass us in the least.

We'll feast on the best quiche and muffins in the city, accompanied by their famous homemade lemonade. I promise you've never had a more refreshing drink...if you'd like to make it at home, HERE is the recipe.

Happiness will reign as Little Beauty becomes Queen for a Day.

Thank goodness that life goes on as it does, with children and activities and hugs and birthdays and beautiful sunny spring days to spur us on and pull us out of the doldrums for a spell.

Find the joy in each day...it's there, I promise.

Of course, the music for the day must be "The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" by Handel. I can imagine the Queen for the Day making her entrance into Miss Aimee B's Tea Room to this lively, happy, grand entrance. Oddly enough, it's the same music that played in my head as my mother made her grand entrance into Paradise. Enjoy.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sail on, Sweet Momsie

My mother left this realm yesterday. She was one of my very best friends and I will miss her dearly. The grief is mixed with great happiness that she is free from the struggles she recently experienced. Ellie was surrounded by many loved ones for the days
preceding her journey, and we experienced great joy and laughter
as well as sadness and tears during the days we spent together.

We were all guided by the wisdom and grace-filled hospice workers, Julie, Carol, Lisa, and Amanda, as well as the kind and capable hospital nurses and techs who made certain that our mother was comfortable and that our family had everything we might possibly
need in order to continue to focus our energies on her.

My heart is filled with gratitude and love for the role my mother filled in my life, for the family who loved her so, and for the army of people who made her passing the gentle, quiet experience it was.

That gratitude and love extends to the multitude of friends who have lifted me up with words of comfort, supported me when I felt weak, and strengthened me when I feared I couldn't continue.

Mostly, I'm filled with awe and gratitude to the Divine Creator for this experience, which was not unlike the experience of witnessing a birth. As in childbirth, we had time for preparation, the gathering together of family and friends for love and laughter and tears, days of anticipation, some hours of long labor, and a final release into
a new world. I am proud to have known this woman
who was my mother, and honored to have been with her
as she prepared to take this sacred journey.     

"I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!"

"Gone where?"

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear the load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!" There are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: "Here she comes!"

And that is dying."

- Henry Van Dyke

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sacred Journey - Over the Rainbow

“The true harvest of my life is intangible - a little star dust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched.” - Henry David Thoreau

Landscape with Rainbow - Joseph Write
Oil on canvas, c.1795
Derby Museum and Gallery, Derby UK

I've just returned from a very long day Kansas City, just in time to post some thoughts about the sacred this Sunday.
I'll be brief, since it's both late, and I'm exhausted (not to mention still transitioning to Daylight Saving Time).

My sweet momsie was admitted into hospice care on Saturday, far earlier than any of us had anticipated. Evidently, she is ready to make the sacred journey to the other side of the rainbow,
and though she spent a lifetime sacrificing for her six children,
the time has come for her to put her wishes first.

She wants no more poking and prodding, no more physical
therapy, no more treatments, and no more pressure from her
loving children to keep on trying for our sakes.

I understand.

Today I observed the most caring and compassionate health care workers on the face of this beautiful earth...hospice nurses. 
These women (I've never seen a male hospice nurse...
I wonder how many there are) tended to my mother's needs
with gentle kindness and sensitivity, and indeed,
treated the whole family with the same regard.

Each one spoke quietly, respectfully, and knowledgeably, answering our questions with great sympathy. They patiently listened as my mother tried to express her needs.
They sometimes read her mind and knew
just what would make her more comfortable.

I am in awe of these women who usher patients and their families on this sacred journey, and I am grateful for their loving leadership.

This is the beautiful Eva Cassidy singing "Over the Rainbow" just ten months before malignant melanoma claimed her life at age 33.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Sojourn - Table Rock Lake

"No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other's worth."
- Robert Southey (English poet and writer of prose. 1774-1843)

This week has been a rather tough one for me, but the saving grace of it has been the overwhelming love I've felt coming from my friends. It's made me think of the many retreats I've had with girlfriends through the years, and the ever strengthening bonds we've created during those brief snatches of time we devote to our friendships.

Last October I had the rare opportunity to reunite with another circle of friends, ladies I had gone to high school with in Kansas City over forty years ago. Five of us met at the lovely family lake home of our hostess, and we spent what can only be described as a magical weekend of relaxation, feasting, exploring, and strengthening the bonds of friendship with each other. Two of us still call Missouri home, and the other three joined us from Oklahoma, Washington D.C., and California. It was a time I will always hold dear to my heart.

Table Rock Lake is nestled in the unspoiled beauty of the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri near the city of Branson. The completion of Table Rock Dam on the White River in 1958 brought hydroelectric power to the area and created the 52,300 acre lake with over 800 miles of shoreline. The beauty of the area is rustic and natural, a perfect spot for a retreat to replenish the body and soul.

After retrieving one of the ladies from the airport in St. Louis, we headed south for the four hour drive...

Of course, we turned right at "EEEEEE!"

When we arrived at the lake house, we were greeted by our exuberant hostess...

We immediately made ourselves at home. This gorgeous deck got quite a workout.  First, though, we toasted our friendship...

...then went off to see the lake.

It was very relaxing

We went back to the lake house,

...where we ate,


and drank...

and danced the nights away. Basically, we took it very, very

True to the mercurial nature of Midwest Weather, one night a huge storm blew through the lake house...

But it only served to make things more beautiful...

It was the perfect time for communing with nature...

By the time this wonderful weekend was over, I knew I had been given the precious gift of yet another circle of enduring friendships.

Gypsy Women - Nancy, Jo, Reya, Vicki, Linda (left to right)

Today I wish you the blessing of good friends.

This may seem a strange music choice for today, but I know it will ring a bell with the Gypsy Women. Dance nights just wouldn't be the same without Barry, would they? Enjoy!


Friday, March 11, 2011

For Japan

Bouquet with White Lilies in a Japanese Vase
Odilon Redon, Oil on canvas, c. 1900  


Clarion crystal orbs
Caught on the precipice

Fragile as the being
From which they spring

Reflecting the ache
Refracted from the soul

They topple
Then shatter

Crashing down
Crystal begets crystal
                                                      Jo Floyd Lucas


Thursday, March 10, 2011


"Who can hope to be safe? Who sufficiently cautious? Guard himself as he may, every moment's an ambush." - Horace

The Ambush - Albert Bierstadt, Oil on canvas, 1876 

Whooeey. Horace got that right. Every moment's an ambush.

I was ambushed yesterday. Wow, it took me by surprise, this wave of frustration and helplessness and futility at the circumstances surrounding me lately. It came out of nowhere and knocked the breath right out of me.

I've done lots of work in the last year or so on my practice of meditation, and thought I had come a long way in learning to separate myself from certain emotions. I've learned to acknowledge them, release them, and move back to a position of neutrality or 'emptiness'. It's been very healthy and healing for me.

Imagine my shock, then, at the surprise attack of...well, wrath that overtook me yesterday.  THIS IS SO UNFAIR!  

I was nothing short of "Sybil" yesterday, exhibiting extremely different personalities with each person I encountered.

I was a kind and Sympathetic Clara Barton Yia-Yia to my sick Little Beauty as she endured several more bouts with "Ivan the Terrible and his Tummy Rumblers" (story to follow some day with illustrations by his victim). I wiped her brow and stroked her soft golden hair, and offered an occasional cracker with her cartoons.

I was an Engaged Yia-Yia to the Little Scholar, who is gamely spending his cycle break from school in quarantine with the rest of the household in an attempt to squelch an epidemic. [Cycle break is the term for the 3-week break in between each 9-week cycle of classes for his year-round school. This break has been honed down to two weeks in order to make up for all the snow days this year.] I admired his lego creations, read Hardy Boys with him, and fixed him cookies and milk. Yay, me.

I was the Overworked Housewench, still trying to seek out and destroy any lurking virus in our midst. I actually even tried to 'get into the head' of Ivan the Terrible to imagine where he might be, waiting to ambush his next victim. (After all, this is the menace keeping me from being at my own mother's side right now...he must be vanquished so that I can be with her.) Goodness, it really is getting ridiculously obssessive...chapped hands, the ever present smell of bleach, and piles of sanitized and neatlyfolded laundry everywhere. Wait...did I clean that closet doorknob yet?

I was the Wise Mother of Adults, having very grown up conversations about work and world situations with The Scholar and his older brother, the Young Titan of Business. 

I was doing okay. I thought.

Suddenly out of nowhere, Sybil, the Indignant and Angry Sister, appeared and ambushed me. She was followed closely by a rogue's gallery of miscreants, including the Sorrowfully Misunderstood Sybil, who soon morphed into the Distraught,Weepy, Needy Wife personality during a phone conversation with her on-a-business-trip husband, and finally, the I'll Think of This Tomorrow Scarlett O'Hara Sybil.  

Yikes. It's exhausting being Sybil.

I guess we're all exhausted, needing a break that no one can take and answers that no one can find. I'll try hard to remember that.

I'll get back to my meditation and try to double the dosage during this rainy season. I guess I have more negativity to release than I realized. I'll try to remember to breathe deeply. I'll be more gentle with myself and with others who have no more control over the situation than I. I hope.

Most of all, I'll remember that every moment's an ambush. Anything can happen to any one of us at any moment in time. I will appreciate this moment. I will. 

I hope you live each moment today with intent.

I usually try to find music that will comfort, soothe, or entertain, but not today. Noooo, today requires the firey tempestuous mood of yesterday. That mood can only be explained by Verdi's "Requiem: Dies Irae" (meaning "Day of Wrath"). It's really all about the day of reckoning, but has all the feel of being ambushed and the feeling of wrath that accompanies it. I won't say, "enjoy" as I usally do, but maybe "Appreciate" instead.

This is one of the finest interpretations I've ever heard. Claudio Abbado conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 2002 in this very small but profound snippet from the Requiem.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Into Each Life...

Be still sad heart and cease repining;
Behind the clouds the sun is shining,
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life a little rain must fall.
 - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Simplon Pass: Reading - John Singer Sargent
Watercolor, 1911, Museum Of Fine Arts, Boston, USA
courtesy johnsingersargent.org

Yesterday morning, as if on cue from some heavenly director, the skies spilled out a cold steady stream of rain.  Caring for my still-sick Little Beauty (please go away, Ivan the Terrible), I watched from the window all day as the unceasing droplets descended from the sullen winter sky. Sometime around mid morning I realized it was high time to acknowledge this period of rain in my life.

Rain From the Window

Into each life, I thought. Better to recognize the downpour and open an umbrella than to bury my head and pretend it's not raining.

It's raining. Cats and dogs. Literally and metaphorically. Whoever first said, "When it rains, it pours" was absolutely right, and I'm soaked to the skin right now. 

Scheveningen Women and Other People Under Umbrellas
Vincent Van Gogh Watercolor, The Hague,1882

Ultimately, though, this is not about me. This is about several very important people in my life who are going through serious health crises, and the ripples caused by these disturbances. Three...three are locked in serious battles with cancer. Another dear one is experiencing life threatening difficulties caused by Cystic Fibrosis.

All men, all dear to me for one reason or another, each of them is way too young and way too undeserving of such difficulties.  The ripples reach from parents to spouses to children and grandchildren and friends and others, eventually crashing into the concentric ripples of the others.

Word came late Monday from My Twin, a physician, who had spoken to the doctors concerning their investigation into our mother's recent falls and encroaching dementia within the last few months. The neurologist has diagnosed ALS (Lou Gherig Disease) or similar progressive neuropathy. One test remains before putting a period after the diagnosis.

Within forty-eight hours, we've gone from wondering how our mother's health could decline so rapidly, to moving her to a skilled nursing center, to discussions about hospice care. It sort of boggles the mind.

And so, I'm enterting a rainy season. As Longfellow said, it's the common fate of all. I know the sun will return in due time. I think when it does, I will take my mother out into its radiance and read some lovely books and poetry to her, just as in the beautiful John Singer Sargent watercolor painting pictured above. Watercolor. How perfect.

For now, though...for just a little while,...I must honor the rain.

Today I wish for you to know that "behind the clouds, the sun is shining."

The music selection today is Eric Whitacre's "Cloudburst" sung by The Tower Choir. Many of you may know Whitacre as the composer behind the virtual choir production of "Lux Aurumque". He is a brilliant, inventive, 21st century composer with classical taste. I think he's fabulous.

Please be patient as you listen to the storm clouds build during the first few minutes. The harmonies are amazing. The cloudburst appears after the five minute mark, when the singers and musicians employ everything from finger snaps, bells, drums, claps, and voices to produce the wind and rain. Listen, and you will see the droplets which fall and cause those overlapping, concentric ripples.  Enjoy. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Please Stand By

"If the family were a boat, it would be a canoe that makes no progress unless everyone paddles."
- Letty Cottin Pogrebin

I'm paddling along with the rest of my family today,
but I'll be back as soon as possible.

Be kind to one another today, okay?

Joshua Bell plays "O Mio Babbino Caro" from opera "Gianni Schicchi" by Giacomo Puccini

Monday, March 7, 2011

At the Ballet

"But everything was beautiful at the ballet..."
Sheila from "A Chorus Line"

Fin d'Arabesque, with Ballerina Rosita Mauri
Edgar Degas,1877, Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay
Like everyone else, I have my share of problems. More than some, but far fewer than most. I have the blessings of good health, abundant food, warm shelter, and a loving family. How much richer could I be?

I try to put my troubles into perspective, keeping each one separated from the others. Divide and conquer, you know? Little by little they can be sorted out, taken and looked at logically, worked on and worked out. Usually.

Every so often, though, Troubles decide to gang up together into a big troublesome wad and hurl themselves into your midst without warning to see what havoc they can create. Splat! It hurts.

And so it has been for the last few weeks. Just when one issue seems to be resolved, another one pops up to take its place. Then another. And another. It’s been a big ole’ game of “Whack a Mole” around here lately.

Yesterday, it all went away for a while. All the problems, all the anxiety, and all the difficulties melted away.

I went to the ballet.

I was tempted not to go. I had planned to accompany my four year old Little Beauty to see the performance, but she contracted a nasty tummy bug that I nicknamed “Ivan the Terrible” and cancelled (wisely) on me. Poor baby.

I was feeling spent myself, tired of the hustle and bustle and back and forth and sickness and logistics and wondering where I would be needed the most. Maybe I would just stay home after all.

But I knew that a dear friend would be acknowledged at the performance, receiving an award for her artistic contributions as costume designer for the last ten years or so at the ballet company. I’ve held many pins for her through the years, and learned so much about the mix of artistry and engineering that goes into building costumes (yes, costumes are ‘built’ not ‘sewn’ as Jude taught me), and with each pin I’ve handed to Jude Bonnot over the years, my estimation for her has grown. I had to be there to see her receive her well-deserved accolade.

Don’t you love it when you make the right choice?

I went to the ballet and had the most wonderful time. The production was amazing, a tribute to the gifted artistic staff from Alexandra Ballet, the gifted dancers (of course), and the scores of volunteers who contribute to the effort.

The MainStage production this year was a repertory show, which is a grouping of small pieces put into a cohesive unit, rather than the usual story ballet (like Cinderella or Swan Lake). Five beautiful pieces of differing style and mood made up this season’s “Gems of the Ballet” and what a shining gem of a production it was!

Here is a photo of the bows taken after the performance of the first piece, Paquita, in which every single dancer wore a custom creation made by Jude Bonnot. This is what's called a "complete build" and you are only seeing a fraction of the scores of costumes made for this one selection.

It was a lengthy show with two intermissions (everyone certainly got their money’s worth for this one!), and as I visited with the company’s Artistic Director during one of them, she was kind enough to invite me over to the cast party following this final performance.

It took a nanosecond to accept the invitation, though I knew I’d be an unplanned guest of the company, and might cause some difficulty to the planners. If it didn’t feel right, I’d just say a quick hello to a few friends and beat a hasty retreat.

Right decision, again. The gracious chair of the planning committee could not have been kinder. She placed me at a table with old and new friends (which, of course, is the perfect combination), arranged for my dinner, and made me feel like a guest of honor. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Karen!

Ballet people know how to throw a party. I've told you that before, but it bears saying again. If you are ever invited to a party connected with  the ballet world in any way... go. It's a guaranteed great time.

The idea here is transcendence. The production itself took me out of my reality for two hours, long enough to restore my psyche. The music took my mind to a place of order and beauty. As if time traveling, the stories of the ballets transported me to places of intrigue, charm, lovely gardens, and humorous vignettes. The party afterward was a place in which I could reconnect with old friends and enjoy making new ones.

The afternoon and evening was truly a tonic for my soul.

If you find yourself beset with troubles, I hope you are able to find a recipe that works for you like ballet works for me.We sometimes are not even aware how very badly we need the respite from those troubles. Music, dance, reading, walking...how do you transcend the everyday?

Today, I hope you transcend all your troubles...at least for a while.

This little video snippet is of Alexandra Ballet Company dancer, Makensie Howe, who has accepted a contract to dance professionally next season with Houston Ballet II. It has been an honor to see this lovely young lady grow up, and she will be sorely missed next year. As it is with any great training company, we must become accustomed to saying goodbye, and come to the understanding that our loss is the ballet world's gain. Godspeed to you, Makensie, and come back soon to perform as a guest artist!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Don't Take Me to the Mardi Gras

"Mardi-Gras is of course a relic of the French and Spanish occupation; but I judge that the religious feature has been pretty well knocked out of it now." - Mark Twain, "Life on the Mississippi" 

Giclee Print of Vintage magazine, c. 1920
The caption to this picture reads, "Les Crepes Du Mardi-Gras' are as Traditional as Shrove Tuesday Pancakes in England."

Well, that was then and this is now. No longer are we content to contemplate the true meaning of "Mardi-Gras" which translates to "Fat Tuesday" as a time of feasting and, literally, eating rich and fatty foods in preparation for the fasting and penitence of the period of Lent before Easter. Mark Twain would be amazed at how soundly the "religious feature" has been knocked out of it.

If that poster were to be made today, the women would not be holding platters and gadgets for making deliciously rich crepes for their families, but would undoubtedly be holding bright red plastic cups filled with beer. They would be dressed in outrageously scanty clothes instead of dresses, and their outfits would not be accessorized with lovely printed aprons, but with stacks of brightly colored beads. Don't even ask how they obtained the beads.

Yes, Americans have managed to prune away the sacred from the secular of every holiday on the calendar, and Mardi-Gras is no exception. I'm just silly enough to think that every single person attending parades, throwing beads, flashing breasts, and drinking beer this weekend should be required to write a term paper on the true meaning of the occasion.  After turning in that term paper, they would then be required to actually participate in the penitence and fasting. Oh, yeah, that should effectively end the need for at least half of the porta-potties now required for the weekend.

I'm not trying to put a halt on all the wild debauchery that takes place in the streets of our cities during the days before Ash Wednesday. I'm in favor of debauchery as much as the next person. I'd simply like for people to go into the wild abandon of their senseless behavior with some sense of purpose. Is that even possible?

On the 10 O'clock news last night, one intrepid journalist ventured out and braved the crowded streets of Tripoli St. Louis to interview the rebels revelers on the scene. One young lady thought that Mardi Gras was a German beer festival, for heaven's sake. Yes, Honey, "Mardi Gras" and "Strassenfest" sound so much alike. I can see why you're confused.  Or maybe it's just the overdose of Anheuser-Busch talking.

Now I'm sounding a bit snarky, which is not what I intended for our Sunday discussion on the sacred. I'm not even a church-goer anymore, but I am a bit weary of the way we have allowed beer companies, toy companies, and candy companies to co-opt religious holidays. Is there any way to stop the madness? Has this happened in other countries?

Really. I'm asking you seriously. What should we do?

Today, I wish you a small sacred moment within the secular.

As I often say (okay, not really), I think Paul Simon has the right idea. As long as he advises us to "let the music wash your soul," I'm down with that.

Here is his take on Mardi-Gras. Be sure to listen to the very end, when the New Orleans jazz brass band takes over...it just might wash your soul like it did mine. Enjoy!

Take Me to the Mardi Gras
- by Paul Simon

C'mon take me to the Mardi Gras

Where the people sing and play
Where the dancing is elite
And there's music in the street
Both night and day

Hurry take me to the Mardi Gras
In the city of my dreams
You can legalize your lows
You can wear your summer clothes
In the New Orleans

And I will lay my burden down
Rest my head upon that shore
And when I wear that starry crown
I won't be wanting anymore

Take your burdens to the Mardi Gras
Let the music wash your soul
You can mingle in the street
You can jingle to the beat of Jelly Roll
Tumba, tumba, tumba, Mardi Gras
Tumba, tumba, tumba, day

Saturday Sojourn - Main Street, Historic St. Charles

“This immence river so far as we have yet ascended, waters one of the fairest portions of the globe, not do I believe that there is in the universe a similar extent of country, equally fertile, well watered, and intersected by such a number of navigable streams” Merriweather Lewis to his mother, from Fort Mandan, March 31, 1805, writing about the Missouri River.  (Jackson, vol. 1. p. 223.)

Missouri River bank at St. Charles, Missouri

Remember that infamous Barbara Walters question, "If you were a tree, what kind would you be?"?

Well, I think I would be a willow, most of whom have deep and widely spreading roots. Willows are used a lot for stabilizing soil in danger of sliding or eroding away. Yes, I would be a willow.

I put down roots slowly and deeply. I've lived in the St. Louis region now for over three decades, and it finally feels like home. It will never be my hometown, but I've come to like it very much, if not love it as much as my birthplace.

When I first moved here, I was enchanted by the small historic district in downtown St. Charles (which is on the west bank of the Missouri River across from St. Louis). I knew it would be my saving grace for having been torn, roots and all, from my happy, fertile, spot in Kansas City.

We moved to the St. Charles County area soon after, and have been here now for thirty-five years. I still love going down to Main Street, which is a lovely combination of the French Quarters of New Orleans with a good dose of Williamsburg thrown in for historical significance.

St. Charles, first founded in 1765 as Les Petites Côtes by French Canadian fur trader Louis Blanchette, played a significant role in the United States' westward expansion.  It was the staging area and the last "civilized" stop for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which was commissioned in 1804 by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the newly gained territory of the Louisana Purchase.

Even many native Missourians are still unaware that St. Charles served as the first Missouri capitol from its entrance into statehood in 1821 to 1826, when the capitol was moved to a  more geographical center of the state, Jefferson City. For more information about historic St. Charles, click HERE.

The Fête des Petites Côtes (Festival of the Little Hills) takes place late in the summer each year, and is a great time to come visit if you like historic re-enactments, lively music, and funnel cakes.

See how far my roots have grown into this new soil of mine? I may be up for a job with the St. Charles Visitor's Center if this keeps up. 

Anyhoo, I had a lovely lunch with friends this week down on Main Street, and thought you might enjoy a walk with me there.

The city is still located right on the banks of the Missouri, just within feet of the Main Street.

The atmosphere here is always vibrant.
 Architecture is a blend of colonial and French influences...

The wavy cobblestone streets enforce a firm "NO HEELS" dress code
And the old wavy glass in the window panes gives an eerie, ghostly reflection to the wares displayed...

 Many visitors think this was the location of the first state capitol..

St. Charles County Courthouse
But it's not. The first capitol was located in this small, nondescript mercantile building...

Missouri's first state Capitol Building

The French influence is undeniable. Fleur-de-lis are everywhere

As are French names on shop signs...


Hmmm...this one may be pushing it...

This is a small area packed with huge charm...

With intriguing tiny alleyways...

As well as enormous monuments

Lewis and Clark on the banks of the Missouri River 
Bronze sculpture, Pat Kennedy, 2003 
If you come visit, I'll take you on a tour.

I hope you find a charming spot to spend the day today.

Thinking no one would really care, I opted not to include music on this post.  Well, my sweet friend, Vicki, has called me out on this decision, and so I found this music just for her.

This is an anonymous woman singing a French folk song. I'm sorry I can't be more specific than that. I love the beautiful simplicity of this music, and can well imagine a young woman hanging freshly washed linens from the balcony of one of the buildings set along the picturesque cobblestone streets of Les Petites Côtes over two hundred years ago. I hope you like it as much as I do. Enjoy!