Saturday, June 9, 2018

Why I Can't Shake the Kate Spade News

I don't know why I'm obsessed--in almost an unhealthy way--about the news of designer Kate Spade's sad and sudden death. I didn't follow her on social media, didn't know her age or family status and I never owned a purse of hers.  Nor do I remember her rise to fashion fame.

I do know, when I entered the mall through Nordstrom and walked passed her tailored handbags with her name all in lower case letters, was that I really wanted one. Coach and MK and Yves St. Laurent were familiar. But, Kate Spade, not so much. Only one person in my circles owned the diminutive bag.

I imagined her a young, chic designer who lived on Madison or Fifth Avenue. Turns out it was Park Avenue. Of course! 

With every mall visit, I'd saunter by the simple bright bags with a longing gaze and the clear realization that, unless I found one on Poshmart or at World Thrift, I could never call the stylish clutch my own. I would leisurely pass with a longing gaze until my neck hurt from looking backwards.  My brother bought one or two for his wife. Lucky sister-in-law, I envied.

What I didn't realize was how much I epitomized this unknown designer as the pinnacle of success. Nor that I'd begun to idolized her. Her business savvy, her dreams fulfilled. Her trio-of-a-family: a self-assured husband-business partner and a daughter with the middle name of Beatrix.

Photo credit: Akira Yamada

To me, Ms. Spade's life was Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy and Beatrix Potter and Coco Chanel all in one package. Just being married to a man who wore faded jeans with well-made blazers and good shoes would do it for me.

When I heard the news of her suicide, I was dumbfounded; mystified that someone with so much could feel so empty. Yes, there is talk of her depression and mental health issues and marital struggles. But to have arrived, so to speak, at the not-so-old age of 55 and to have strung her self up with a red Hermes scarf surrounded by Andy Warhol art, custom furniture, a breathtaking New York City view, and a world of fashion ventures to pursue, appeared unthinkable. Money would answer most of my problems. My brain sort of short-circuited to see someone dispose of everything I've ever desired.

Then two days later, cuisine and travel icon, Anthony Bourdain does the same. He was my husband's age, birthdays two weeks apart. Admired by many for his wit, earthiness, writing, again, I can't fathom the degree of desperation that made him just stop living. He had "the life," I thought. I mean, really, all that fascinating travel and exotic tasting.

Both celebrities possessed what I dream about while cleaning my toilets, teaching unruly third-graders, and shopping at Costco. What? Their lives didn't bring the 'it' I chase?  'It' will leave my handbag only half-full?

The obvious radiates in blinking neon lights. All those things, fashion, beauty, creative fulfillment, travel, delicious food were meant to be enjoyed, but not worshiped. They are meant to be enjoyed with the Savior by our side. Inside.

Conversations with neighbors reason out. "I think it's the anti-depressants that put people over the edge. They're no good and too easily dispensed," said one friend who has taken them and knows from personal experience.

My husband said this morning as we talked in the kitchen, trying to understand why these two people who had it all, ended it all. "All I know is that in my deepest gut (while he pressed his hand on my stomach), when I am in right relationship with Jesus, I'm satiated.  It's like sunshine on your face and a breeze in your hair. It's like the dancing flowers sunning themselves as they reach upward. That's how we are with Him."

Without Him, all the beauty and pleasure in this world is nothing.  Can I learn this? Could I live this? Or will I keep seeking the same stuff instead of the stuff of his Kingdom? Kindness, gentleness, love, righteousness.  

"Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled."

If I'm going to dream or pine or pick an obsession, unhealthy or otherwise, it better be Him, and nothing else.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Month of Love and Presidents

Poetry is one of the most romantic ways of expressing love, and many other sentiments as well. For being the shortest-month-of the year, February packs a lot into it's 28 days.
And it's all worth celebrating, pondering, and even debating. After all, not all chocolates in the Valentine box are palatable...

I found a wonderful poem by  Countee Cullen in Caroline Kennedy's The Best-Loved Poems of Jaqueline Kennedy-Onassis  that combines brotherly love and Black History.


photo credit
Locked arm in arm they cross the way,
    The black boy and the white,
The golden splendor of the day,
    The sable pride of night.

From lowered blinds the dark folk stare,
   And here the fair folk talk,
Indignant that these two should dare
   In unison to walk.

Oblivious to look and word
   They pass, and see no wonder
That lightning brilliant as a sword
   Should blaze the path of thunder

And another by Lanston Hughs, born 1902 and a pioneer of Jazz Poetry:

Merry Go-Round

Where is the Jim Crow section
On this merry-go-round, 
Mister, cause I want to ride?
Down South where I come from
White and colored
Can't sit side by side.
Down South on the train
There's a Jim Crow car
On the bus we're put in the back--
But there ain't no back 
To a merry-go-round!
Where's the horse
For a kid that's black?

 Each of these two poets deserve more print the the above. Pick up their books and you'll be enriched.

 Yes, February is the month of love, presidents, and Black history.  May we spend each of the 28 days and beyond, honoring from the heart, all three.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Why These Christmas Songs Are Perfect For Florida

Ever feel a little awkward singing “The Christmas Song” while sitting in 80-degree weather? I know I have—or at least I’ve chuckled a bit when the line, “Jack Frost nipping at your nose,” comes around. It’s more like, “A/C nipping at your nose.”

Turns out, the song is completely appropriate for our toasty climate. Singer and composer, Mel Torme was in California on the hottest day on record in the mid-40s preparing for a songwriting session with lyricist, Robert Wells. Torme noticed a spiral pad of paper containing four hand-written lines: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost… Yuletide carols….Folks dressed up like Eskimos.  When Torme asked Wells about the verse, Wells replied that he was just jotting down winter memories of Boston to take his mind off the heat. 

Forty-five minutes later, the songwriting duo finished penning “The Christmas Song,” and it became Nat King Cole’s signature Holiday song and a popular sensation. 


A year later, another composer on the opposite side of the country named Leroy Anderson had a similar experience. Connecticut was undergoing a fierce drought and unseasonal heat wave. While digging for pipes that lead to a spring, Anderson started formulating music with the vision of a 19th century winter scene in his head. He finished composing “Sleigh Ride” a year and a half later after moving to Brooklyn, New York. It was first performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra in May, 1948. The instrumental piece became a huge holiday hit, enjoyed by folks in any clime. In 1950, Mitchell Parish added lyrics: Just hear those sleigh bells ring-a-ling, ting, ting, ting-a-ling, too…

Photo credit – The Leroy Anderson Foundation

And then there’s the obvious pining-for-snow song, “White Christmas.” Truly, few north-eastern transplants are wishing for the white stuff, due to harrowing memories of shoveling it, scraping it and slipping on it for too many years. They’re most likely ecstatic to be miles away from the slush, and probably moved to the Sunshine State to escape it.  But, hailing from snow-deprived Southern California, and being spared the cold’s down side, I still romanticize the sight of whipped cream scenery, and sing every word of Irving Berlin’s verse. The sun is shining, the grass is green. The orange and palm trees sway. There’s never been such a day in Beverly Hills, LA. But, it’s December the 24th, and I am longing to be up north. I’m dreaming of a White Christmas…

So, here are a few South Florida events that will help you forget the temperature and find that Holiday frame of mind:  See the Del Rey Tree Lighting or Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite Ballet” at the Kravis Center December 1st through the 3rd. Take in “A Christmas Carol” at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, playing through December 2nd.  “A Christmas Carol - the Musical” is also offered throughout the month.  And don’t miss the classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at the Kravis Center on December 23rd.

If those productions don’t get you into the Holiday spirit, try singing this Florida-inspired parody of “The Christmas Song.”

Chuck steaks roasting on an open grill
A/C nipping at your nose
Yule tide carols being sung by the pool
That overflows with dangling toes

Everybody knows a turkey and some mojitos
Help to make the spirits bright
Shiny yachts with their decks all aglow
Will twinkle on Palm Beach tonight

We all know Santa’s on his way
He’s bringing high-powered generators on his sleigh
Every adult and child is going to spy
To see his reindeer touching down at PBI

And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To snowbirds 12 to 92
Although we might sweat, we will celebrate yet
Merry Christmas to you!
 (Lyrics © 2017 A. Shaw)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Power Never Lost

When this article posts, Hurricane Irma may be a distant memory. But I have a hunch that for most Floridians, the ordeal will not be soon forgotten--especially the prolonged loss of power for 65% of us.

While I was among the fortunate 35% who never lost electricity, I'm quick to remember Hurricanes Jeanne, Francis and Wilma which brought lengthy outages (over 10 days). Our house became a sauna, and 'camping' routines immediately commenced.  We cooked on the grill, hung laundry outside, and took cold tubs to cool down.

There's no question that electricity is a necessity in this hothouse of a state. Not only do our bodies melt, but the interiors of our dwellings are damaged by constant moisture--and this is a fact for eight months out of the year.

Irma reminded us how important power is. How distressing the loss of it can be.

As a musician and art lover, I've noticed another power that is equally essential to our well being--and if lost, would deprive us of a wide spectrum of comfort and relief. The week after the hurricane, I was working at home teaching piano, when I noticed otherwise crabby family members emerge from their rooms with faces appearing transformed. There was a brightness--a look of peace. I observed then and there how the mere sound of melody can soothe jagged nerves and calm agitated tempers. Hence, the power of music.

This is no surprise to most, but bears repeating. An entire field of study is dedicated to this phenomenon. Medical institutions harness Music Therapy regularly in their emotional and psychological recovery regimens. says: “ out the good in everybody. Favorite songs have the power to uplift the spirit, tap into lost memories and foster meaningful relationships.

President and CEO of Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, New York, Tony Lewis points out that music is much more effective than expensive mood altering medications.   In addition, there's no need for pages of side effect disclaimers.

We've experienced firsthand what life is like without electricity. But what would it be like without music? It would be a beige, treeless desert, a one dimensional existence. There would be no earbuds pumping favorite vibes, nothing to work or dance to. No songs, bands or orchestras. Self-expression would lose its aural creative vehicle.That would be a true disaster and real sustained loss.

Hollywood Bowl - Jams Plus

Besides losing a major mood enhancer, without music our minds would suffer too.

Studies show that musicians have more symmetrical brains than non-musicians. The areas that are responsible for motor control, auditory processing and spatial coordination function better. Musicians also have a more developed corpus callosum, which is the band of nerve fibers that enables the two hemispheres to communicate with each other.

With all those smarts waiting to be had, everyone should go out and take up an instrument. And why not? Now that we have power, a hot shower and cool air, why not get down to the business of living and improving our quality of life; of taking advantage of the opportunity to make music. 

The benefits are as close as a strum on a guitar, a stroke on the piano or a puff into a recorder. The power of music  is--literally--at our fingertips.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Post Irma Disorder

I wake up the day after the hurricane and tell my husband, "Better cancel your gym visit and I'll reschedule my nail appointment. He laughs. After what Irma left behind, today is a day for rakes and chainsaws, not treadmills and pedicures.

Morning light pierces the dark shuttered house as I open the door to survey the outside world. I wade through an obstacle course of poinciana branches and palm fronds. The trees took a whipping from this Category 1 storm. Irma actually landed as a Category 3 on the other side of the state. Here, 200 miles away from the eye, it was more like a  Cat 1. Still, it raked our neighborhood with a fury.

Neighbor's front yard

The shredded trees look like yesterday's nerves when we rode the Irma roller coaster. Cooped up inside, between whistling wind, distant eerie rumbling,  tornado warning buzzes that grated every fifteen minutes, and cranky family members (myself included), the nerves were snapped and dangling just like our ficus branches.

Morning moon the day after.


With every tornado warning, the emergency recording commands to find shelter away from windows. I try to rally the family into the windowless bathroom, but they pay no attention. The 88 year-old mother-in-law can't hear. At one point, she finally understands the TV tornado alerts, so we both go into the bathroom with small chairs, cushions, tea, a Bible and a deck of cards.

"Tim, come give us a Bible study in the bathroom," Grandma hollers.
My husband ignores her. She leaves to go get something. I call out, "Are you coming?"
Annoyed, Tim answers, "No, I'm not coming!"
"I wasn't talking to you. I was talking to your mother. I know you're not coming."
(This is the kind of mis-communication madness that we sank to during the peak of the storm.) Perhaps devastation would have been better, I think more than once.

Mother-in-law comes back to the bathroom. I light a candle, so that in case the power goes out, we aren't in complete darkness.
"Why is that wick lit," she asks, eyebrows furrowed.  There's no explaining to her. She will either argue or not hear. I give up and I blow out the flame.

"Have a seat, " I say pointing to the chair.
"No, I want to sit on the floor," she insists, plopping down on a couch cushion. "We'll see if I can get up, later." My thoughts exactly, of course, kept to myself. She keeps calling for Tim to give us a Bible lesson.

I grab the cards and not the Bible.

"Do you remember how to play poker?" I ask her.
"I don't know," she says. "Let's just play and see."
I deal. We play two rounds. She beats the snot out of me. Her two Jacks beat my two Fours; she creams my flush with a Royal Flush, proving she remembers poker just fine.

Tornado warning is over, and after a great effort to lift herself off the floor, she trots happily off to the TV news. Yet another warning demands we take cover for 15 minutes more. I disregard it and grandma doesn't hear. This goes on for three miserable hours.

Irma over Cuba, the day before her Florida visit.

I vacillate from extreme mental irritation to impromptu dancing in the kitchen. One moment grandma is asking why I fixed the same dinner two nights in a row? Why didn't she get Tim's kale? Why did I serve her so much spaghetti? The next moment, Tim and she are arm wrestling and goofing off. Cabin Fever defined.

Throughout the day, I distract myself by sorting old photos, but am jolted by the reality that a fierce hurricane whirls outside. I better cook lunch before the lights goes out. We should eat dinner before the power fails. Wash each dish after you use it. Check the backyard trees. Did they fall on the neighbor's car? Oh God, not Keith's car! He's so careful about hurricane preparations. He boarded up a week ago--at night--and even removed his mail box off its stand so it wouldn't blow away. I would be mortified if so much as a twig landed on his property. Most of the time it's too windy to dare open a door, much less slosh into the yard to investigate tree conditions.

Florida landfall

Thankfully we never lose power. All that relational chaos in the a candle-lit cave would have been unbearable.

Later, when the howling wind softens, husband and I pour wine. A drink on the patio might end a tumultuous day quite nicely. I set out chairs and stemware, but the wind still whips. So I pull it all into the house. Instead, Tim and I sneak the White Zinfandel into the bedroom (mother-in-law would not approve), and relax. We do a little more than relax. I wonder if couples all over the county are "relaxing" the same way we are after the week's ordeal.

Today, we face several day's worth of clean up.Tim had trimmed trees in advance, but it was little  help. Time to reset our surroundings

and our psyches.

But, better the trees and not the roof. Better our nerves and not our lives. Better on so many levels. Seven days of harrowing preparation and tormenting thoughts of loss, have turned into a welcomed day of peace. Now when I think of my faithful God, his protection and severe mercies, gratitude comes from a deeper place inside, a place that wasn't there before the hurricane.

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