Mental Health Monday, Part 2: Sing of Mary: A Springtime Celebration

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These mental health Mondays have been giving me trouble each week. I’m struggling to find my balance, and each day brings a new horror of deaths and White House incompetence that quite honestly is beyond frustrating; I don’t want to overuse the word, but it is horrifying. It’s beyond anything that we’ve seen in my lifetime. For those of you who saw the New York Times cover commemorating the covid-19 death toll reaching 100,000, you can see and understand it’s devastation.

It’s been a difficult time for those of us already on the edge with our “everyday” mental health issues having to slog through isolation day after day, and then watching on television people doing the exact opposite and wondering what the whole point is. I understand. Some parts of my anxiety have subsided, but some parts of my depression are heightened a bit. Nothing that needs a med check, but enough that it’s noticeable, and it’s hard to center myself.

I would usually find a quiet corner in a Starbucks and write. However, the Starbucks dining rooms are closed, and writing just isn’t there for me. While pre-covid I would sit in the car and have lunch and read or write on my Kindle, I find that eating in the car when the car is respite from the home isolation is not giving me the mental boost that it once did. I don’t know if it will come back post-covid, but for now, I’ve put off that worrying for another time. I’m trying to stay in the present, and the writing…I hope it will come. I will occasionally jot down a few thoughts in a journal, and I’ve been publishing here, but the writing that I long for just isn’t available to me right now. I can’t slow my brain down enough to get through a sentence let alone a paragraph and I may have mentioned my overactive brain has also been keeping me from sleeping properly.

Our family did have a nice weekend. We went to the comic store (curbside) and then got takeout from a chicken place, went to the state park and had a picnic in our car. Despite what I said above about eating in the car, this was actually a lovely time and we had a nice drive to places not too near our home so it was a different view for everyone. The people around us seemed to be following covid protocols so there was no outside stress from counting the maskless faces.

Upon arriving home, I discovered an art and music presentation that I had missed, but luckily through the magic of technology and the internet, I was able to watch the video of it.

The art was by my favorite spiritual artist, Brother Mickey McGrath and I know that when I’m enamored by something I post about it a lot and I will readily admit to being a Bro. Mickey stan. The music was from Meredith Augustin. I’m providing the link below because I think that this presentation, while religious in nature was also very soothing and would be a beneficial mental health exercise for anyone. Brother MIckey’s voice in describing the artwork and Meredith’s singing really just lulled me into a different headspace, and the beauty of it I think transcends and invites non-religious people to enjoy it as well, and spend an hour with it, away from everything else that may be weighing on us right now. I would certainly encourage you to give it a try, at least through the first musical section. If it’s not for you, of course, stop the playback and find your own musical and art encounter.

I had originally planned to draw or doodle in my sketchbook while I watched it, but I was so caught up in the presentation and pulled so far into the pictures that I didn’t do anything but give myself over to it. I can always doodle tomorrow.

Give yourself that time to breathe.

Sing of Mary: A Springtime Celebration in Art, Story, and Song with Brother Mickey McGrath and Meredith Augustin

Something to Smile About (Updated 4/29/20)

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These are fun things I’ve found online from a variety of people, famous and not, offering their talents while we all stay at home and flatten the curve. Please enjoy.

Do What You Can – new song from Jon Bon Jovi. Write and sing the second verse and post on social media with the hashtag: #DoWhatYouCan

Hamilton OBC Reunion on Some Good News

My Free Bingo Cards (Make your own Bingo Cards)

The Broadway Coronavirus Medley – from Zach Timson

Social Distance – a parody by Randy Rainbow – check out his other videos on YouTube

Follow @avantgame on Twitter for a Stay at Home Daily Challenge similar to a scavenger hunt.

Steve Martin Plays the Banjo

Will Smith et al on The Graham Norton Show (2013) This never fails to make me grin from ear to ear. It is the definition of feel good.

Neil Patrick Harris – 2013 Tonys Opening Number

Your Moment of Zen – Hiking, Stream, Woods (Video)

Follow Patrick Stewart on Facebook and he will read a sonnet from Shakespeare daily.

LeVar Burton reads Chivalry by Neil Gaiman

The Rotterdam Philharmonic Plays “Ode to Joy” from their Homes

Daniel Matarazzo on You Tube – he has two Coronavirus Parody songs

Rick Springfield Sings (No) Human Touch

Radio Free Burrito: Wil Wheaton Reads Star Mother (Soundcloud)

Wash Your Hands by Lin-Manuel Miranda

From the NE Ohio Sewer Service: Is it Flushable? Ask them on Twitter and they will answer. As useful as it is fun.

Text the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and they will reply with an SMS message to your phone with a related picture. Text “Send me ____” to 57251. Fill in the blank, and see what they send!

My Dad Looks like the Food Critic in Ratatoille

Andy Slavitt’s Twitter Thread: The Best of Us

30 Days of Nano – Day 13

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Writing Playlist

My Top Fifteen Writing Playlist; what’s yours?

1. Henry V Soundtrack

2. Non-Stop from the Hamilton Soundtrack

3. Wrote My Way Out from the Hamilton Mix Tape

4. White Blank Page – Mumford & Sons

5. Smash (album) – Offspring

6. Capercaillie – Ailein Duinn

7. Hedwig’s Theme from the Harry Potter soundtrack

8. Carry On – fun

9. Blow Me Away – Breaking Benjamin

10. Flogging Molly (any album)

11. English Curse – Frank Turner

12. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day

13. Mr. Brightside – The Killers

14. One Day More – Le Miserable soundtrack

15. Beidh Aonach Amarach – Gaelic Storm

Found/Tonight

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Lin-Manuel has teamed up with Ben Platt and arragner Alex Lacamoire for this beautiful mashup of his The Story of Tonight from Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen’s You will be Found to raise money for combatting gun violence. A portion of the proceeds from every sale of this MP3 will go to March for Our Lives.

This is a subject that is close to my heart. My personal connection is minimal – my daughter is the same age as the murdered children at Sandy Hook, and my cousins attended and had graduated from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. I believe in gun control, but more importantly and more universally, I believe in not only being safe, but feeling safe.

For the rest of Lin-Manuel’s Hamildrops, new Hamilton mixes dropping each month, go to Hamildrops.

You can buy this MP3 from all major music sellers. I use Amazon. You can also donate separately.

A Christmas Gift

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​My first Christmas at church I didn’t know what to expect. I had never spent so  much time in a pew until that spring before that first Christmas. The season of Advent was a surprise to me. I thought it was  merely the religious counter to consumerism post-Halloween. Pumpkins and turkeys and tall evergreen trees fighting for space on store shelves and floors, hanging on wires from warehouse height ceilings. Sets of twenty-five mini boxes filled with the chocolate or tea or Lego of the day.

But church Advent wasn’t that. It was greenery and purple, the season of waiting, of patience, of reflection. I had no idea what I was doing, where the path I trod would take me and so patience and reflection were exactly what I needed.

Didn’t we all?

And apparently that insight, that foresight was already built into the season.

And, then, overnight, seemingly as if by magic, wreaths adorned the walls alternating with the windows. Purple ribbons changed to gold. At the back of the choir, the tall evergreen, white lights shining brightly and garland delicately strung across the bottom of the organ pipes appeared.

I did know that there would be more people at Christmas services than at the daily masses, and even more than at the Sunday masses. I thought the pews would be filled, everyone tightly sitting, trying not to touch their neighbor but failing at that, everyone finally giving up the pretense.

Filling the pews, laughter and song, smiles and handshakes. What I didn’t know was that it would be standing room only, barely meeting fire code, if at all. That first Christmas Eve, the low hum of talk between carols, seeing the pastor, greeting the pastor, shocked as he remembered my name. The lights dimmed giving off the feeling of candlelight. Father J asking the back row to budge over so I could sit, leaving me no good way to sneak out if it became too much.

I was unknown and still welcomed as family. No strings, no judgment, malice toward none.

The week before this Eve was something many churches do, but many more used to do. The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. I thought it was a sing-a-long, but it was more a solemn service alternated with hymns.

Ode to Joy. My favorite moment in the Die Hard movie was actually Beethoven and part of the Christmas music selection; with words. I grinned ear to ear at something so familiar in such a strange setting.

Around the middle, towards about three quarters, the music director, D, began his piano and sang the first three words – O, holy, night. This song wasn’t in the book , the guide we’d received when we arrived, a clear indication that we were to listen and not join in.

It wouldn’t have mattered had the words been there with the direction to chorus. D’s voice rose and fell and held notes I couldn’t imagine existed. It was as if the sky opened and angels guided his music. It was more than just a lovely song by a lovely voice, although it was that also. It was more than a heart could hold. It was G-d and joy and love and spirit rising as incense, speaking to souls. I held my breath. I didn’t realize I had tears in my eyes until the last note when the spell was broken with applause.

Every year since then I wait through all the musical offerings, enjoying all, but hoping my Christmas gift arrives from D and it usually does in a pre-piano hush that clears the senses before they can be filled again.

The birth of the child who would be King in every note, every breath, every moment.

Advent Reflection – Dec. 8 and Dec. 9

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What role does music play in your faith life? What role does Mary have in your Christian discipleship?

From Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas: Waiting in Joyful Hope 2016-17 by Birhsop Robert F. Morneau


Music plays such a profound role in the church I attend, both the physical parish and the church of my heart. We are blessed with a beautiful choir and our musical director is so talented and has such an amazing voice. For the Immaculate Conception, he sang Ave Maria, and each Christmas I look forward to his singing of O, Holy Night. It defies description and takes my breath away.

I have always been a fan of Gregorian chants and Welsh choirs are the voices of angels.

It is not only hymns and church music that brings me spirituality. I have an affinity for modern, albeit alternative music that lets me travel in my mind to many places and thoughts. My current favorite is the Hamilton soundtrack and my collection of Supernatural and The Walking Dead music. They truly do feed my soul in ways that only writing typically does.

If the flute is being played, we dance. At Christmas parties and wedding celebrations we eat and drink in moderation. If a dirge sounds, we mourn the loss of a loved one or repent of our sins by doing penance, by practicing asceticism.

From Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas:Waiting in Joyful Hope 2016-17 by Bishop Robert F. Morneau

We’ve had this difficulty all year – of trying to discern when to dance and when to mourn. This whole year has been a long, drawn out pop culture funeral beginning with David Bowie and Alan Rickman followed by Prince and Muhammad Ali, and continuing most recently with Florence Henderson and John Glenn. Some of them have been harder on my heart than others, but so much of my childhood has been disappearing before my eyes.

It is always difficult to continue living our daily lives with so much sorrow hanging over us. Each death brought me down, but I got back up. We get ourselves back up and we keep going. Because that’s what we do.

After my mother-in-law was hit by a car and almost died three years ago, we thought she’d live forever. She wasn’t supposed to walk or leave the hospital, and she did. As hard as it was, and as long as it took, she was home, she was walking and she was doing great. She is the epitome of energy and independence and inspiration. We are fortunate that my daughter seems to have inherited all of that from her.

We were stunned while on a visit after school let out that she passed away suddenly at the end of June. We were with her earlier in the day, talking, joking, she admiring my daughter’s taste in clothes as well as the discount we got in buying it. Bargains and garage sales made her happy.

Her passing made all the others less significant, and it’s taken a lot to get through it.Thanksgiving without her was difficult and I know that Christmas will be even harder. We didn’t see her for Christmas, but we spoke to her throughout the day. She is missed every day. Her birthday is in a few weeks, and we will continue to struggle with this loss that is so deep and devastating.

50-39 – My Music Studio

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I think when we’re young we think we can do anything. We can fly and run and draw and sing. We sing in the shower. We sing in the car. We sing as long as no one is watching.

We had half a finished basement in our house. Coming down the short staircase, to the left was the bar area. My parents almost never drank, but they collected really. nice bottles of liquor. Most were gifts from friends, visitors to our house, and “tips” from their office.

Chivas Regal, Johnny Walker Blue, Canadian Whisky, and about a dozen more that have left my memory. Oppposite the liquor shelf was a counter, and beneath the counter were the glasses, probably about a dozen of a variety of shapes and sizes.

On top of the counter was a stereo. Big and burly. It was only a turntable with a clear plastic cover and two very large speakers on either side of it. We had a separate eight track player somewhere else, either in the basement or the den, but that was used by my mother mostly.

We had a pretty decent record collection; mostly oldies and showtunes, but for my birthday or Chanukah I was gifted The Beatles Greatest Hits. It was a red album and I think it had four records in the set. We called them records, not vinyl.

I put the record on and set the needle to play. Sometimes I would skip a song by moving the needle carefully to the next groove or the second to next, looking for whatever my favorite song of the day was.

Michelle.

Please, Please Me.

Nowhere Man.

Octopus’ Garden.

Yesterday and Hey Jude.

So many more that if I named them all it would take all day.

If the record sounded a little off, I’d lift the arm and pull the lint off the needle with my fingernails. Then I’d blow on the record to make sure that there was no more dust, and usually the record would play fine.

I had headphones that plugged into the stereo and I would sing along. I had a beautiful voice. At least I thought so. No one else was there to boo or cheer me on, but I sang as if my life depended on it. Maybe I could be the next Beatle. Who knew?

That was how I spent many an afternoon. After school, I’d run downstairs and pull on the big black and silver headpohones and I was in the recording studio, practicing for my upcoming tour.