Monday, April 25, 2005

4/25/05 RM Newsletter: Bonjoie: 7 Lessons I Learned in Paris

Today's Quote: "April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom, holiday tables under the trees." E. Y. Harburg

After reveling in a mountaintop experience, it often takes one a couple of days to not only regain altitude and perspective; it takes a little while to fully grasp what—exactly—just happened.

Such was our trip to France.

Escorting thirty-six young musicians to Paris for a three-concert tour proved to be an amazing experience which I cannot fully communicate in this Newsletter. My words will fall short; our pictures will miss most of it; and stories re-told with enthusiasm to eagerly awaiting family members will only reveal a glimpse of the experience. What happens when vision meets strategy, passion meets energy, and divine inspiration meets faith cannot be comprehended by those missing the mountaintop. But because it is now part of who I am, I feel moved to attempt to share it with you.

Paris was, for me anyway, the fruit of nearly fourteen years of musical training in my kids. And it found my heart bursting with joy as I celebrated it. After listening to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” played mostly with less-than-perfect intonation upwards of ten thousand times; of the foot-stomping, the eyeball-rolling, and the ‘I hate the violin’ when my children were too irritable to practice; of the 90-minute roundtrip weekly drives to Westport for lessons: watching not only my own Ben and Cristina, but the orchestra kids aged twelve to eighteen, perform Beethoven’s “Fifth” and Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” in a medieval cathedral in the center of Paris left me ebullient. Tears stained my cheeks as the music moved and carried my soul to a height previously unimagined. Friendships forged with the most unsuspecting partners, as commonalities were uncovered and shared. Barriers erected by political divisions, theological differences, and ideological disparities collapsed under the international love language of music.

It was an extraordinary experience, and I learned a few lessons along the way:

1) We stand on tall shoulders of the spiritual giants who lived before us. When one visits a city with cathedrals still standing after the frenzy of the Crusades and the numerous battles fought there, one realizes the magnitude of the spiritual convictions of those who came before us. Studying the Chartres Cathedral—and walking the halls of La Trinite and the Magdalena Cathedrals where our children performed—allowed me not only the luxury of admiring stained glass windows depicting prominent Biblical themes; it allowed me to ruminate on the vision, inspiration and dedication with which they were crafted. In earlier times in Paris, religion was not a part of life. It was life.

2) Art, music and literature are necessary components for creating a life worth living. As are good shoes, good mattresses, and good books necessary elements of every childhood; good art, good music, and good literature provide needed nourishment for the soul. Wandering through the rooms of the Louvre—and my favorite museum in Paris, the Musee D’Orsay—gave me even greater appreciation for the importance of fabulous art. They don’t call these guys masters for nothing. I am convinced that the world would be both safer and happier if everyone learned to paint, played a musical instrument or sang in a choir, and read classical literature on a daily basis. Music remains the universal language of the heart; anyone who does not understand this had better start listening to Mozart.

3) Celebrate serendipity. Already a lesson explored in both my book as well as in earlier Newsletters, it is worth repeating here, as I witnessed, embraced and practiced what I preach. Most of you may know by now that I have an inordinate amount of passion for the color lime-green (or illness, depending on your perspective). It was pure serendipity that, while walking down a Parisian street in search of French ceramics and candles, we stumbled upon a lime-green sofa setting against a bricked store wall. I started laughing hysterically. Where but in Paris would I find a lime-green sofa in the middle of the street? I promptly sat down in it, reveled in the experience, and allowed it to be captured in film. (Photos forthcoming)It was serendipity that, while walking around a tony shopping district, I was grabbed from behind, only to find a Parisian lady who spoke no English attempt to communicate to me that her surname was “La Coq” and could I please tell her where she could buy the Vera Bradley backpack I wore which sported roosters and eggs? I happily told her—in English—that it was no longer available but sign-languaged her to get out a paper and pen so I could write down the internet site where she might have some luck. The serendipity of that encounter still makes me smile. Perhaps it was serendipity that our tour guide was darn near perfect; that our flights were uneventful; that our hotel was perfectly situated; and that the Parisian orchestra, which played in a joint concert with us, was well-prepared and delightful. Serendipity or angels watching over us: we celebrated each and every tiny victory.

4) Food plays a huge role in the celebration of life. To be French means to have a passion for all things related to food. They unapologetically indulge in the culinary arts and enjoy all of its inherent stress-relieving side benefits on a thrice-daily basis. They endorse a ‘live to eat’ rather than an ‘eat to live’ M.O. And it shows. “Take-out coffee” is an oxymoron. It simply does not exist in France. (I asked for it everywhere and never found it until I returned to JFK airport.) Coffee is meant to be drunk sitting down, preferably with a friend or two, along with a baguette or a sugar-or-chocolate-filled crepe as well. While French women may not get fat, American women visiting France just might. I embraced the French dining philosophy for eight days and came back with more “wiggle in my waddle,” if you know what I mean. Que sara sara (or is that Spanish?)

5) Charm and charisma still work. They are not overrated. From the hotel staff to Parisian waiters to the clerk at the Ralph Lauren store: all met our needs with grace and charm. When an unsuspecting yet magnificent floral arrangement brought a constant tickle to my throat, the “Polo clerk” ordered up a glass of water for me. It was delivered on a cloth napkin atop a silver tray. (When was the last time that happened to you stateside?) When our orchestra met up with the community orchestra for a joint concert, we were—every one of us—enthralled by its Parisian conductor, Sylvan. Young and vibrant, he exuded charm with his humility and gracious behavior toward us; the hot pink tie against his otherwise all-black “uniform” proved once again, the magic of charisma.

6) “Bonjour” means something. The French refuse to start a conversation without it. Once, when I barged into my explanation of needing several Eiffel Tower charms for bracelets without the mandatory “Bonjour” opening, the store clerk stopped me mid-sentence, interrupting my banter with “Bonjour, Madame, how can I help you?” How wonderful to be reminded at every turn that today is, indeed, a good day!

7) “Bonjoie” means even more. Late on the second night of our trip, bubbling with energy and excitement after traveling to the top of the Eiffel Tower, I accidentally said “Bonjoie” (jwahr) rather than “Bonsoir” (swahr). Sarah, the perfectly-fluent chaperone to which I directed this mis-step, proclaimed: “Happy joy of life to you, too!” Giggling my way up the escalator to my hotel room, I didn’t quite realize the extent of my error. But the next morning on the bus, everyone greeted me with “Bonjoie.” And so it stuck. It became our password for life in April in Paris. I can think of none better.

Our children shone like sugar-coated gumdrops sprinkled around the streets of Paris, dotting major landmarks and sweetening each and every meal. I was thrilled and honored to have been part of an event of such historic significance for our young and tiny youth orchestra. They were goodwill ambassadors for our symphony, our town, and our country. Never have I been more proud as a music lover, a parent, and as an American. Perhaps my experience sheds some insight on how you, too, can celebrate life.

Until we chat again, au revoir!

A Nick Note

Nick began a new round of chemo on Monday. He received two "surgical" procedures: a bone marrow aspiration and a spinal tap. On top of that, he got four chemo drugs, some of which were brand new to him. Yuk! He took it all in stride, like a champ. He looks better than ever and is doing beautifully. As always, we covet your continued prayers for his complete and total healing.

A Quick Note

I will be a guest panelist for the upcoming "What do I want to be now that the kids are growing up?" Seminar at St. Stephen's Church on May 3 between 7:00 and 9:00 PM. Main Street, Ridgefield, CT. Open to the public. Questions? email:

Monday, April 11, 2005

4/11/05 RM Newsletter: Joie de vivre

Today's Quote: "The best thing you can do for your children is to love their father." Anonymous

Perhaps it is because we leave for Paris next Sunday. My two middle children and I will be traveling with the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra on a seven-day tour, performing in medieval cathedrals for Parisians and tourists alike in three concerts throughout the week.

Perhaps it is because I watched the book, French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, catapult to bestseller status on Amazon and to the No. 2 spot on Barnes & Noble. Other bestsellers included Barefoot in Paris and Guy Savoy: Simple French Recipes for the Home Cook by the renowned French chef. Even Julia Child remains on the bestseller lists at most book chains.

I’ve never been to Paris, and I am a self-acknowledged disinterested cook. Truly not “into it.” Not into the gourmet thing, the foie gras thing, or the wine thing, I spend my days not in the kitchen, but in my office or my studio, writing or painting...or in the chemo clinic, hooking primitive rugs while watching medicine drip into my son’s port-a-cath. Not one to either read travelogues or purchase cookbooks—-particularly those re: French food, I find other things to grab both my attention and my time.

But because of this upcoming trip, my radar has been out for most things French. Partly because of my ignorance. Partly because of my inexperience. I desire now to educate myself, not with the hope of becoming a serious Francophile, (I’m still annoyed with them); but with the modest intention of getting up to speed.

And so it was that Ernie and I went to Bernard’s, a French restaurant in our little New England town, for date-night Saturday. It was a rare treat, indeed. Accustomed to regular date-nights, which have, for sure, been interrupted with Nick’s illness, we generally choose reasonably priced restaurants where we can relax over a meal, yet dive in and out within an hour or so. And with my New Year’s resolution to practice “dining” rather than “eating,” dinners out with my hubby-—albeit more infrequent than we would like-—generally fit this bill.

When one eats at a French restaurant, and a five-star one at that, one must plan on making it a whole evening’s affair. And, true to that custom, our dinner lasted three hours. It was splendid! Their bread, freshly baked and warm, was divine with real butter. The bisque soup was like medicine for our souls. The cheeses which Ernie chose for dessert were both rare and the perfect end to a fabulous meal. More important, to us anyway, is that Bernard’s owners are fellow youth symphony parents who have been wildly supportive and extremely generous in lending their facilities, their time, and their talents on behalf of the youth orchestra. So on several fronts, we wanted to “give back” as they have so graciously given to our own.

However wonderful the food—-and it was indeed wonderful-—it was in combination with uninterrupted time out with my husband that proved such a special treat. Not only did we appreciate fabulous food and superb service; we simply enjoyed the beauty of the environment—-the warm glow of candles, the freshly cut and beautifully arranged flowers on our table, the artwork on the walls-—as well as the luxury (and it was pure luxury) of sitting back and relaxing in each other’s company. We were fully aware of its rarity. Fully aware of its perfect timing. Fully aware that kids’ schedules just happened to jibe to make the evening work. We promised each other not to take any of it for granted, but to enjoy it for the pure delight that it was.

Maintaining date-nights with your spouse, once children arrive, can be a daunting task. When your kids are babies, you hesitate to leave them in the care of someone else. Thoughts ranging from “What if the babysitter drops him?” to “How can I wear silk while I’m nursing?” to “What if he screams all night?” can leave the best-intentioned of us defaulting to delivery pizza and a DVD.

It doesn’t get much easier when toddlerhood arrives. What with separation anxiety and the “barnacle syndrome”; tantrums and “time-outs”; and potty-training and all of the other activities junior claims to be able to do on his own—we often throw our hands up in frustration, believing that it’s just not worth the effort.

The teen years hardly bring relief, either. For just when you think it’s safe getting away, you learn all too well that two parents out of the house for a couple of hours is a guaranteed invitation for disaster. Dozens of hormone-impaired, logic-challenged youth will descend on your house like mosquitoes to a poorly-drained swamp. Word travels via cell phones at the speed of thought, and before you realize you’ve been “hit,” your home has become the veritable stomping ground of social science. Once again, your well-intentioned date-night has been relegated to years-—if not decades-—down the road.

Fewer things bring more pleasure than regular, weekly date-nights. Yet fewer things are more difficult to consistently pull off.

Just knowing that the weekend will bring a couple of hours out, alone, with my husband, helps me “keep on keepin’ on” when the mundane realities of the job drive me practically insane. Knowing that a little glamour might transform the make-up-free-workout-clothes-tennis-shoed-uniform that finds it way onto my bones most days keeps me upbeat and optimistic when carpooling and dishwashing get me down.

I cannot advise you as to how-—exactly-—to work romance and date-nights into your own reality. I can only assure you that, like fine French cuisine, its pleasures cannot be denied. They must be experienced as frequently as possible. Embraced for all of their possibilities. Enjoyed to the fullest.

I’ll write you again in two weeks, after Paris. Until then, au revoir!

A Nick Note

Nick's unbearable headache of last week turned out to be from a poorly-received...or inadvertently poorly-delivered...spinal tap. Once healed, he was back to his (almost) usual self again. He endured a week's worth of chemo last week and finished this latest round without requiring a single transfusion and without spiraling into neutropenia. His spirits are fantastic, he looks terrific, and he is exercising as often as his energy level permits. Thank you for your continued prayers. We all feel them and are confident that they are profoundly contributing to his total and complete healing.

Dining at Bernard's

For those of you living in the metropolitan New York City area, I encourage you to visit Bernard's in Ridgefield, Connecticut. For details, go to: Please tell Sarah that Carolina sent you!

Monday, April 04, 2005

4/4/05 RM Newsletter: A Light Extinguished....A Life Lighting Others

Saturday brought the news of Pope John Paul II's passing. During
a papal reign of twenty-six years, he ministered to not only
millions of Catholics around the globe; he proved a living
testimony to the power of faith to those not even in his flock.

Although I am not Catholic, I appreciate all too well the example
of his life. A life extraordinarily lived-with passion and
purpose-it will have reach in corners not yet measured, and life-
changing influence in hearts and souls not yet fully alive. I
watched with others around the world, the light streaming from
his apartment in St. Peter's Square, and of it being extinguished
at his parting. A life of light..filled with messages and images
of hope and love.

Indeed, his determination to make the world his parish
transcended geological boundaries. Ideologically and
theologically as well, his ministry knew practically no end. He
desired, quite simply, to minister to the deeply troubled. The
disenfranchised. Those living at the fringes of society because
of cultural or economic oppression. Regardless of race. Or
nationality. Or religious background or understanding.

He desired for people to come to grips with their innately
spiritual nature. Unabashedly-through not only his spirit and the
call placed on his life for evangelism-but through his intensely
physical and charismatic nature, his razor-sharp intellect, and
his brilliant command of language, he issued unapologetic
testimonies of man's place in God's creation. He said: "It is not
the church's task to teach unbelievers." Nor did he feel that the
church should "cry over the lamentable state of the world" or
"pretend that it had all the answers to all the problems in it."
(1) He simply provided those in his immense flock with wisdom on
how to lead godly lives in spite of the terrible conditions in
which we so frequently found ourselves.

As did most people on the planet, I had a grasp of the role he
played in the drama of the Catholic church over these past couple
of decades. In fact, as with most of us "boomers," he is the only
pope I ever really "knew." He commanded a sometimes unruly
following, through trials, controversies, and challenges to his
judgment and authority. And certainly, not being Catholic, I
disagreed with some of his mandates. But I always respected the
call on his life, and admired his convictions, regardless of the
controversy they sometimes played out in my own spirit.

Because I was only a casual observer of his life, I had no idea
of his intellectual-and creative-genius. Being extraordinarily
prolific, authoring seven books and over 300 hundred articles and
essays, he was the only sitting pope to have ever written a
commercially successful book. Before "Crossing the Threshold of
Hope" was released in 1994, it was unheard of for a pope to
author a book for the masses. Yet his book went on to become a
best-seller in America for months. One of the defining
characteristics of genius is sheer production. All true geniuses
produce. Period. And Pope John Paul II certainly did just that.

He was also a poet, playwright, philosopher, debater, actor (some
say that the theatre was his first love), and a linguist, with
fluency in seven languages and proficiency in a dozen. It is
believed that it was his ability to converse with people in all
parts of the world in their native language that contributed to
the dramatic strength and scope of his ministry. A Renaissance
man, he was highly creative, and immensely, profoundly moved by
art, literature, music and drama.

He possessed an intensely physical stature. Going against
commonly accepted papal protocol, he hugged, kissed, smiled,
winked, sang, and grabbed people when he spoke to them. He was
truly a people person. He loved to joke around, and had a hearty
laugh, with ruddy cheeks to match. Thomas E. Cook, the director
of Harvard's summer school, remarked in 1976 when he met the pope
that he was "floored by the sheer physical presence of the
man"."He exuded such a combination of power and acceptance. He
had this smile on his face and a look in his eye that said
'You're wonderful. And I'm wonderful, too.'" Late that evening,
after sharing dinner with him, Cook said to himself: "This man
ought to be pope." (2)

An athlete, one apparently knew it when he walked into a room. He
was a strappingly rigorous man. He played soccer in his youth,
and loved the outdoors. Backpacking, camping and boating were
favorite pastimes. He loved swimming laps, and refused to stop
when he entered the papacy, insisting that a pool be built so
that he could continue the vigorous schedule to which he had
become so accustomed. A lap swimmer myself, I thoroughly
understand not only the physical-but the emotional-addiction the
sport affords. It is generally in the pool, when I swim one
monotonous lap after another, that I solve the problems of my own
little world.

It was certainly part of God's eternal drama that this man would
take center stage for so many throughout the world. Gifted beyond
the norm, he clearly recognized that his gifts were God-given,
and he proved to be a wise and generous steward. For those of us
touched and blessed by any one of his gifts, we are the better
for it. I couldn't help but wonder, as I read more intently of
his life, how the world might be shaped differently had he not
had the position of authority, and an international platform with
which to share it.

Many of us have life messages as well. Perhaps not as dramatic.
Or as grandiose. But we may have felt a call to impart an
important message, or have a desire to change a tiny part of the
world. Yet we feel discouraged by our inability to spread it. By
our lack of celebrity or stature. Our lack of depth or breadth.
No international stage. Just a teeny tiny audience. (I feel like
that most days.) Take heart: God never returns His message void.
If He wants the message out there and has chosen you to have some
part in its delivery, the time will come. In His time.

Perhaps you have never felt a call on your life. Never been
touched by an angel. Never felt purpose, not to mention passion.
You muddle along, getting up each morning, putting one foot in
front of the other. The days come and they go. That's okay, too.
Your light is still shining.

The light of a life is a beautiful-and good-thing. Let your own
light shine. Regardless of the magnitude of its illumination.
Live your life such that, even after you're gone, your
light-like Pope John Paul II's-is not fully extinguished. Live
so that your light will live on in the lives of those whom you
touched in one way or another. I mourn with those of you who
mourn this week over the passing of your pope. But I have
experienced joy in the awareness of the impact of his life. Well
done, good and faithful servant!

1.McFadden, Robert D., "Pope John Paul II, Church Shepherd
And a Catalyst for World Change," New York Times, April 3,
2005, p. 43

2. Ibid.


A Nick Note

Nick had an unusually rough week. After chemo treatments on Monday and Tuesday, he was thoroughly whipped, despite fantastic counts in his blood and great exams both days. Tuesday brought vomiting and total lethargy. A short visit to school on Wednesday, followed by a quick match of tennis for varsity team tryouts, left us all feeling pretty good about his recovery from the chemo but proved to be a mistake: by that night, he was feeling absolutely miserable, and has not felt much better since. As always, we covet your prayers. If you feel led to join others in the canopy of intercession for Nick's total and complete healing, we thank you. A visit to the doctor Monday morning will hopefully bring some much-needed relief.