Two Pianos

pianos

My house has to contain three things to be my home, a fireplace, a cat and a piano. I love the primal joy of essential and mysterious fire, linking me with my ancestors. Of course I’m cat obsessed so a fluffy kitty or two on my lap is pure joy. The piano is a great friend and comfort. I play when I’m happy, sad, bored, got a minute to spare or to accompany singers or my darling violinists.

I was raised in a very conservative religion that permitted few extra-curricular activities. Sports and dancing were out but not music so I took piano lessons from a young age. My teacher, Mrs. Harter, a lovely older lady and church organist, had a white toy poodle, Baby, that sat on her lap during lessons. When I was in high school I took lessons from Mr. Schneller at a music school. He smoked a pipe and drank coffee during my lesson—very exotic and worldly to this sheltered girl. I had the usual scales, new pieces, polishing pieces and every week a hymn to learn so I would be ready for any church occasion. My two closest friends were very accomplished pianists so we played for each other and learned duets. To this day, when my friend Melanie is driving to see her mother in Nashville she stops by and we play a Mozart duet that we learned almost 40 years ago for our 8th grade graduation. Our performance is little rusty at times but we are once again those young girls skipping class to practice our duet.

I didn’t have the talent to be a professional musician so I just play for my own pleasure. Without the standards of performance that trained musicians have, I learned to compensate for my short comings with amateur tricks like White-out if there are too many notes or just skip the really hard, tedious parts. My cats and husband don’t care, they are an approving audience. Alexandra loves having live music even if it isn’t perfect.

When Hamilton and I married, I was determined to have my dream piano, a walnut baby grand. I had always played a spinet but aspired to a bigger piano. So I took our wedding money to a piano restorer and picked out a lovely 1930’s vintage walnut baby grand piano. I made small payments for a few years until it was paid off. It took up a great deal of my 900 square foot apartment but I didn’t care. The dog had room to sleep under it and the girls played “fort” under it. I started them on violin very young and our evenings were spent playing the piano and violin together. I kept that White-out handy to be able to keep up with them when the accompaniments were orchestra scores.

Next month is my 30th wedding anniversary making my piano a part of the family for 30 years too. It has brought us much joy and solace, entertainment and achievement. Now it is time for my piano to go to a new home. It is a bittersweet parting. A newly married couple is coming to move it in a few weeks. It is a big task to move a baby grand, you can’t just throw it in the back of a van. It requires special movers, strong men, equipment and the a retuning. Definitely a high maintenance instrument.

But I haven’t given up playing. In fact I’m playing more than ever on a new piano. My mother’s beautiful Yamaha piano wouldn’t fit in her new apartment so I have it and it is magnificent. It has better quality tone and touch and is truly a joy to play. Mom can come play it any time she likes but it is mine everyday. In the mean time I have what I call my “intensely first world problem” of two baby grands in my family room. There isn’t much room to walk. This is a bridge time between my cherished old piano that has brought me so much joy and my new piano that will be my companion for the next thirty years. A strange time when I say goodbye to an old part of my life while simultaneously welcoming the new. The last few years have been such a transition in my life; the children are grown, the parents gone, the old house sold. I’m ready to leave this long transition time and bid a fond farewell to my old piano and my care-giving years and welcome with open arms my next phase full of the great unknown with an amazing sound, track compliments of my new piano.

 

The Sun

The Sun

It has been a busy summer, too busy. My mother is now moved into her lovely apartment in a retirement community. Alexandra is settled in her micro apartment (175 sq. ft) in California and Caroline’s home is ready for a new roommate. Whewww, I’m tired so I’m devoting this month to what I consider to be a very important task, worshiping the Sun. I will see the sunrise as I have my first cup of coffee, I will enjoy the morning sun on my walk, I will spend time with the noonday sun at the pool and see the evening sun as I water my flowers and trees. I’m even going to Minnesota to see the sun have extra long time to shine in the north. I’m going to drink in the sun and store it for the coming winter.

The Sun is life, without it there would be no world. It is light, living energy, abundance. The Sun Card in the Tarot reminds us to soak in the light and enjoy life. The Sun is new beginnings, a new phase and new options.

This sun has a gentle face, just like children instinctively draw in their own versions of the sun. The rays are both wavy and straight showing the wave and particle aspects of energy. The young child is naked, riding a white horse and holding a waving orange banner signifying action and vibration.

The Sun card comes after many trials and tribulations. We have walked a long path to get to card number 19 and just have two more cards before starting our journey over on the next level of the spiral.

These final three cards hold the keys to an enlightened life. The Sun show us that when we are at higher levels of consciousness we become like a child again. Not childish but childlike with an open heart and simple joy of living. Naked—without judgment, letting life be just as it is.

The wall shows that we have built good boundaries and accumulated great wisdom, a solid and firm foundation. The sunflowers are growing in the right directions and show the fruitfulness of this phase of wisdom. The child rides the white horse without a saddle indicating inner strength and control of the animal nature. The white horse is purity of purpose for the highest good.

When you become the Sun you become the source of light, love and wisdom. You have move through the trials and lessons of life to accept your total and true self. Now shine your light in support of others for you no longer need to be in the artificial limelight. Bask in the good experiences and happy times.

When your heart is open you glow like the sun, you radiate your true self into everyday life. The wise mystic Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov said “If you worship the Sun, it is enough”. So join me in an August devoted to our true and radiant selves worshipping our glorious Sun.

Frasier

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It all started with Monarch of the Glen, then we moved to Ballykissangel, after that it was Big Love, Mad Men, Damages, The Tudors, Doc Martin (total schoolgirl crush) and most recently Frasier. For the last few years Hamilton and I would enjoy an episode every night just before going to sleep when we could no longer keep our eyes open reading and it was still to early to go to bed. Our shared time together is our little treat at the end of the day.

Our latest series is Frasier starring Kelsey Grammer, all 264 episodes and eleven seasons. Most nights about 9:30 Netflix will give us the next installment of this classic sitcom. I enjoyed watching the foibles of this pompous but big-hearted psychiatrist getting himself into trouble yet again because of his oversized ego. His brother Niles played by David Hyde Pierce is equally egotistical plus neurotic all bound up in amazing physical comedy. Roz, Martin and Daphne keep these brothers firmly in their place and of course I can’t forget Eddie the dog who always reminds Frasier who is really the boss.

I love the gentle and sophisticated humor, no need for put downs or crassness. I don’t get the wine jokes but I love the opera jokes and the literary references. Most of all I love the great stories and lessons in each episode. Poor Frasier manages to get himself in big trouble every time because of his ego and quest for love.

Although it is fun to watch Frasier’s life being unconsciously run by his egotistical antics it shines a spot light on the big ego in all of us. How many times have we all gotten ‘too big for our britches’ and got caught in a brag or a lie. That old ego is so sneaky and subtle that we don’t realize what control it has over our lives. Even when we are feeling like we’ve tamed it and have it under control or acting altruistically, there it is again working behind the scene to puff us up and make us desire to be important and self-serving.

There seems to be two spiritual schools of thought about the ego. One is that the ego needs to be annihilated, the other is to tame it. I tend toward the taming philosophy for those of us that live in the Western cultures. When used properly the ego can help us navigate the choppy waters of modern, crowded society without being walked over. The ego can be made a tool to get things done rather than a tornado wreaking havoc everywhere.

I’ve enjoyed my months of Frasier and will really miss him as we move on to the next series. I have found that watching his foibles helps me see my foibles and reminds me how wylie our ego is. Funny enough another great thing about watching Frasier is it has helped me conquer my insomnia. I’m wide awake when it starts and 22 minutes later I’m relaxed and falling asleep, sometimes when I can’t get back to sleep I go downstairs and put an episode on and finish the night on the couch. Maybe since I’ve missed so many endings I should start all over again. I’m up for suggestions for the next series so let me know if you have a favorite.

—–Warning: when Caroline graduates next year with a physics degree my parental ego will be totally inflated –I’m already planning on several more lifetimes to overcome it.

http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/Eckhart-Tolle-on-How-to-Free-Yourself-from-Your-Ego-Armor

A Year

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Magnolia blossoms from my yard.

It has been a year now since Alexandra and I finished our grand adventure/pilgrimage on the Camino in Spain. And what a year it has been. You know how certain years stand out in your mind, I have a few: 1994 when I moved to my first house, 1999, the year both girls learned the Bach Double Concerto back to back, 2006, the year Caroline was 16—need I say more, 2013, the year I moved to the farm. A lot of other years are just a blur with nothing note worthy.

My 50th year will go down as a year I won’t forget. Just days after my birthday I headed to Spain and walked 12 miles everyday for 5 weeks until I reached Santiago de Compestela. Each day was a joy and a gift to walk where millions of pilgrims walked with devotion along with great saints like Theresa of Avila and Francis of Assisi. We all walked along the Milky Way path for Compestela means way of the stars.

My prayer everyday on the path was to be strengthened, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I don’t think the people in my life would call me weak but there were life lessons I had not faced and was afraid of.  I wanted to come back a stronger person so I could start the next half of my life ready to take on new challenges and make it as wonderful as the first half. My daughters are grown now and I will forever miss those wonderful years of having them home but I want to keep growing and be productive.

There is a saying on the Camino, “the Camino starts when you get home”. I wasn’t home six weeks when I needed to call on the strength I had so prayed for. In fact I was faced with the very situations that frightened me most—-confrontation and death. First I had to confront a family member who was using the family for their own gain. Somehow I became the front line to protect the family. I’ve never confronted anyone in my life but there I was and the family started calling me Ninja Nancy (my first name). The betrayal went on for months and finally ended badly with the vengeful selling of the family farm in Minnesota. My efforts didn’t change the outcome but I walked away knowing I had fought hard, done my best and there was nothing more I could do. Now there are relationships that are forever lost but many others were strengthened and the bonds even tighter. I still don’t like confrontation but I now know I can do it when needed.

While I was in Spain my father was diagnosed with skin cancer with no available treatment options for his age. We thought he had a couple of years but by January he was getting sicker quickly and so my home turned into a hospice. My father’s mind was so sharp and his will to die consciously so strong that it was my deepest desire to keep him home with his family. With the help of hospice nurses and my brother, who stayed with me a month, I was able to keep him home until he died. Never in my life did I think I had the emotional or physical strength to face such a difficult task. The last few days were incredibly hard but I was able to pull from the strength that I had ask for. I faced what was a truly frightening task for me.

Loss and betrayal, two of the great themes of the human condition. I’ve had both in my life before but never like this past year. I’ve learned to be present with strong emotions in myself and in others. In the past I would run at the least bit of unhappiness. But it is ok that happiness isn’t in every experience, sometimes the courage to face the loss without losing oneself is all the spirit and soul wants.

Sir Walter Scott

Authors Card Game

Two years ago today, what started out as an innocent cup of coffee with a friend in my library ended up a new epic quest. Toward the end of our visit she mentioned a dream she had the night before about Sir Walter Scott. Although we had both heard of him, all I knew was he had written Ivanhoe, thanks to my card game “Authors” I played as a child. I did vaguely remembered the shrine to him in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Well when the next step in your life is trying to get your attention you start noticing it everywhere. We did a little research into Sir Walter’s life and put a few more pieces together but then the epic quest began. First a copy of Rob Roy unexpectedly showed up in a waiting room. Then I was researching Thomas Becket and there he was referenced in Ivanhoe. I was doing some final cleaning in the basement and a beautiful old copy of Lady of the Lake was in a small stack of books. The Metropolitan Opera was doing an HD broadcast of Lady of the Lake—not performed in decades. A brochure about his home Abbotsford was uncovered in a box of magazines untouched in 14 years.

I was sitting on a wall at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain and my friends and I were discussing the author Washington Irving of Sleepy Hollow fame, who lived on the grounds of the Alhambra. So we googled him and Sir Walter showed up again. He was the great mentor of Washington Irving. Later I was going through my father’s office and there were beautiful old copies of Scott’s Poems and Irving’s Alhambra right next to each other on the self.

books

So what is going on with Sir Walter? Let’s look a little closer at his life and see why he is still so important. Born in 1771, he survived polio as a toddler which left him with a limp and he used a cane the rest of his life. He was the first author to have international fame in his lifetime and is credited with inventing the historical novel. He used the great storytelling tradition of the Highlands to help bring back the Scottish identity that had been cruelly crushed by the British. His Waverly novels were very popular in Europe and America starting Romanticism and influencing American writers such as Thoreau and Twain. He was also a poet and playwright and his works started the great Romantic era of opera with 25 operas based on his works including Lucia di Lammermoor, one of my favorites.

For me the big “aha moment” came when I heard the most important but little know fact about our friend Sir Walter, he translated the Hermetica, the Great Work from Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing and magic.  Like so many great authors and scientists, Sir Walter was connected to the deep, underground stream of ancient knowledge that is unknown to the general public. Sir Walter was tapped into the “great wisdom of the ages”. No wonder he was such a game changer.

I’m definitely not done with Sir Walter and we will be discussing him again in more detail. I just wanted you to start looking around and see the world beneath superficial life, there are enormous treasures and lots of fun adventures there. Now I’d like to hear if you’ve had Sir Walter show up in your life or some other similar encounter with a great author.

–——Today on the 2nd anniversary of the dream, my friend just happens to be at Abbotsford visiting Sir Walter’s library. Hmmmmm, the plot thickens.

 

South Carolina

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I’m always up for a good travel adventure and I’ve had quite a few these last few years. I love jetting off to some place exotic or exploring new territory but sometimes the body and soul just needs a rest. This last week I just needed a rest. I’ve had a hard year so far and I needed to get away and not have to think about logistics. This year is Caroline’s turn to backpack with friends in Europe so Alexandra and I headed down to South Carolina for a few days.

I’m a beachaholic and believe the beach is the best vacation destination with children. I make sure I breathe the ocean air and get my feet in the sand at least once a year—somehow, somewhere. Through the years my beach of choice has been in South Carolina. I love the gray starkness of just water, sand and sky, the flat sand for long walks and the gentle warm waves. The early years with children I would go to Charleston to minimize my time in the car, six hours door to door, interstate the whole way. The last nine years I have gone to Hilton Head Island near Savannah, Georgia, an hour farther but worth the extra time. It is easy to get to, no reservations required, just throw a few things in the car and go. I don’t even need directions for I know the way by heart.

So over the mountains of western North Carolina down the plateau to Columbia where we stop at the mall for a nice break and then on to a friend’s condo in a picture perfect neighborhood. The condo is small and sparsely furnished but just what is needed to relax. I get the furniture situated on the screened porch, start the coffee maker and commence reading. I always take a large stack of books and magazines to make sure any reading whim is covered, plus there is always a trip to the bookstore to fill in any missing gaps. Everyday I move my reading venue to the beach where the salty wind and the stark landscape of the ocean make me feel most myself. I’m like a crystal being cleansed in the salt water, removing all the old energy and being revitalizing to shine again.

This corner of our precious planet is like a fairyland of enchantment. Everywhere you look are Live Oaks dripping with Spanish moss, the sun shines through the moss to make soft filtered light. If I had flown round the world I wouldn’t find any place more exotic and unique. The beautiful architecture  of the Charleston and Savannah low-country houses adds to the old-world charm. The sailboats in the marina make their characteristic clang in the breeze, the perfect windchime of the beach.

Live Oaks

Instead of seeking out new experiences I look forward to the same routine, same restaurants, same stores, the same walks. It doesn’t change and it is exactly how I like it. I need the old familiar, like reading my most beloved book, or wearing my most comfortable clothes. I need the gentleness of knowing what is next so that I can deeply relax and heal.

This year’s trip is bittersweet, Alexandra and I had a last few days together before she begins her new life in California. She has graduated college now and has her dream job in Santa Monica. There won’t be time to vacation in South Carolina with her mother anymore and so we have said good-bye to our happy routine. I will still go to my little borrowed sanctuary in Hilton Head every year but next year I will learn a new beach and a new routine in California and enjoy the healing in that corner of the world.

marina

Wildflowers

This is a guest post by my friend Valarie Budayr at http://www.jumpintoabook.com and http://www.audreypress.com , author of A Year in the Secret Garden The Fox Diaries and The Ultimate Guide to Charlie and the Chocolate Factor.  Last week we took a hike together and I wanted to share with you our wildflower pilgrimage close to home.

We took a little adventure a couple of days ago and discovered a Secret Garden right in the middle of the forest. We were hiking in the Smoky Mountains, everyone around here knows that the wildflowers bloom over a few weeks and many of us get out to see the forest and mountain sides bloom out in color.

We took a side path and walked ourselves into an ancient moss covered forest. Surrounded completely by mountains we walked deep into the enclosed valley to discover the most enchanted vision I’ve ever seen in nature.

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The forest floor was completely covered in blooming phlox, may apples and another little tiny white flower I don’t know the name of. Moss one inch thick covered fallen trees and branches as well as the trunks of living trees.

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We were all alone here in this ancient wood. The only sounds were that of a water fall off in the distance, the cacophony of birds and the buzzing of bees.

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One of the most important things missing from these photos is the smell. I’ve never smelled anything as this blooming forest. It made us heady with delight. We spent over an hour in this forest soaking it all in. Soon other wildflower enthusiasts joined us and it was nice to meet people who shared in this moment of Secret Garden bliss.

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I learned a big lesson on this hike, that a Secret Garden doesn’t have to be behind a wall locked away with a key but can be found in our daily wanderings.

This week I challenge you to find a secret garden near you. It might be behind a wall, it might be under a big tree, it might be in the forest near your home, or behind a log that’s drifted in from the ocean. Wherever it is, go and find it! Cherish those hidden moments in nature’s Secret Gardens!

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