Another great discovery right under my nose!

Remember when I posted about discovering a little piece of heaven across the street from my house? After living there for twelve years?

Looks like I’ve found another treasure in my town. Continue reading “Another great discovery right under my nose!”

Nice, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Orlando, and your own life: When you can’t find the words during desperate times

There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a violent storm, in the world around us, and in our own private spheres.

lightning storm Benjamin Benson Flickr Creative Commons
lightning storm Benjamin Benson Flickr Creative Commons

We wake up to another terrorist attack or senseless shooting. We face a crisis of trust in our leaders.

Our faith is under siege. Believers face ridicule and rejection, and for some, martyrdom.

Sickness and death surround us. We witness children in poverty dying of starvation around the world. We encounter suffering, death and grief among our own families and friends.

In the midst of these storms,
do you find it difficult to pray?

I find these words from Romans 8:26 helpful:

“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

It no longer matters that I can’t find my own words–
God provides.

Word by Word, edited by Sarah Reinhard

We can begin with prayers we learned from childhood. Praying the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary, word for word, and contemplating their meaning, does much to take our groanings to a deeper level. There is, in fact a book that does just that for the Hail Mary called Word by Word, edited by Sarah A. Reinhard. It literally provides a brief meditation for each word of the prayer. You’d be surprised how much you can learn from the word “the.”

The Divine Office, prayed each day by our clergy, is a wealth of words, mostly taken from scripture. If you find the format hard to master, you can listen to it at http://divineoffice.org.

For a time I prayed a psalm each morning until I had worked my way through the entire book. They addressed so many of my feelings. I imagined Jesus praying these psalms and often I could see his story within the words.

The singing of sacred hymns is especially consoling. I have an old hymnal and sing songs to myself, offering them as prayer. Singing truly is praying twice.

And during those times when the groanings pour over me in billows, God still provides through the prayers of family and friends. All I need do is ask.

It is true that familiarity breeds contempt, even with prayer. Maybe especially with prayer. How can something we’ve recited so many times still stir the heart and fill the soul? Can the meaning be restored?

I love praying Psalm 104 (which celebrates God's creation) while kayaking.
I love praying Psalm 104 (which celebrates God’s creation) while kayaking.

My husband, a deacon, recites the same prayers every morning from the Divine Office (from the Eastern Catholic Church). He has been doing this for seven years. I marveled at how he found meaning in this repetitive action.

On the surface it appeared to be a monotonous chore. To him it was sublime. But I had reached a point in my life where I could no longer come up with my own words and I decided to give it a try.

I proceeded to create my own prayer corner, a sacred space in our bedroom, decorated with icons and a candle. Using a prayer book that my husband’s bishop had created for lay people, I began the daily practice of chanting the Orthros (Morning Prayer) from the Eastern Catholic Church. Sometimes I do Vespers or the Compline at the end of the day.

There was something comforting about praying texts, many from scripture, or written by people recognized as saints. I knew the prayers would be centered on God rather than on me. They would lead me to a place of truth and humility with regards to my failings. And I would pray for others, even for those who had passed on before me.

And yes, keeping up with this routine proved to be challenging. But I was to discover that faithfulness to duty can bear a rich fruit. Just ask Mother Teresa–she dealt with spiritual desolation for over fifty years and yet she never wavered in her devotion to prayer and her work. I lean on her when I don’t feel like being faithful.

I started this regimen back in March and it is still going strong. Each time I recite the now familiar prayers, some word or phrase will touch my mind or heart and I will pause for a moment and think on it.

My cat, Jenny, insists on sitting in my lap each time I pray. She loves hearing me sing (along with the warm lap), and settles right in. I stroke her, and I pray. And it puts me in the eye of the storm.

And I no longer concern myself with my own words.
God provides.

silver lake-640

Note: This is my July column for the Catholic Free Press

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

What makes you think of spiritual things? Here’s an exercise to help you identify them.

flow lesson logo-640
Materials needed: pen or pencil and paper, and your memories

Pick a quiet place in your home to do this exercise and make sure you can sit still comfortably for several minutes.

Be still

Take a moment to be still with God, taking several long and deep breaths and listening as you breathe. In and out, in and out. Be conscious of the rhythm of the breathing. As you breathe in, whisper the name of Jesus; as you breathe out whisper, “Be with me.” Do this for several moments until you feel quiet and still.

Shawn Rossi Breathe
Shawn Rossi Breathe, Flickr Creative Commons

Recalling a happy memory

Take a piece of paper and fold it vertically in half so that you have two columns. Next recall one memory, object or smell that makes you feel especially good. In thinking of it, what words pop into your mind? Write them down in the left hand column. What feelings come to mind? Why do you feel that way? Write those down too in the same column.

Brainstorm with these ideas:

Look at your list. Are there any words on that list that you could equate with your relationship with God? Can you match up any of those impressions with how you feel when you spend time with God, either in a formal setting, such as attending Mass or a worship service, or on your own, praying for yourself or others, or simply meditating? In the right hand column, write down any words that pop into your head when you think of your experience with God.

Once your list is done, see if there are any similarities between the list in the left hand column and the list in the right. If you see similarities, draw a line from the word or words in the left hand column to the one in the right. Is there a possibility that in the future, your favorite memory, object, or aroma could prompt a pleasant memory about attending church or simply being in the presence of God?

Matthew Doyle Incense and Sunlight
Matthew Doyle Incense and Sunlight, Flickr Creative Commons

Pray and Ponder …

Do not be disturbed if you can’t see an immediate connection; it can take some practice. Ask God to reveal it to you over the course of several days and then look at your notes again to see if a connection becomes more evident.

00 cover drop shadowcopyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey;
from Chapter 1 of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times,
published by Ave Maria Press

 

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

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Reaching my weight loss goal through the toolbox of Grace

My latest Catholic Free Press column (June 17, 2016)

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Grace is invisible.

We feel its power pushing us forward, carrying us as does a river’s current. It takes us many places both serene and chaotic. It molds and shapes us. Yet there’s nothing concrete to grasp onto. We cannot dip our hands into its waters nor physically feel that current.

Or can we?

It is a mystery of our faith as demonstrated through the incarnation—God is spirit, grace invisible, and yet, God provides us with a toolbox to go along with that grace. As Jesus once came to Earth as man, and comes to us now through the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist which we consume, so God’s grace comes to us through concrete and very human tools.

Recently I declared a personal victory.

After ten months of hard work, I had reached my weight loss goal. It wasn’t an enormous amount (just twenty seven pounds) but that did not diminish the glow of achievement. I discovered that the rewards of those lost pounds were far greater than favorite clothes regained. I was reminded again of the toolbox God provided me when He first infused me with the grace to begin this journey.

before and after1

Getting the elephant to move!

It had been fifteen years since I had been successful losing weight. At sixty I found it far easier to gain! The very idea of trying seemed impossible—it was like an elephant was sitting on top of me. I had given it permission to stay even as I longed for it to leave.

elephant on chest

An invitation

One day last August, after hearing the invitation over and over in my heart, I went to adoration. Bringing my tablet, I watched a video of a musical rosary and spent the hour meditating on the sorrowful mysteries. It was a powerful time of prayer, a rare time of undistracted quiet in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

An image as metaphor

A few days later I noticed a photograph of my sister-in-law on Facebook. She had been out picking blueberries with her one-year-old son strapped in a carrier on her chest. I had seen her and Nate a few days earlier and knew he weighted some twenty pounds. I was immediately struck with the idea of her carrying twenty pounds on her chest and thought of the back pain I would feel carrying that weight. And then, all of a sudden, I realized I was carrying that weight! As we older women know, most weight gain occurs in the stomach and abdomen areas.

Memories unfold . . .

unfolding will montague-640
Unfolding by Will Montague, Flickr Creative Commons

I then recalled the last time I lost weight with the Atkins diet. It had been a great success. Old memories began to unfold, first of how I liked the food on that diet, and then, of all the strategies I had employed to make that diet work. Once-dormant thoughts began to awaken and reveal themselves to me.

… and the elephant leaves.

As I decided to proceed a laser-like focus steeled my will and I was on my way. The elephant on me got up and left quickly.

Sweet discipline

Over the next ten months I employed a specific strategy that would keep my focus and shed those unwanted pounds. In the course of the diet, I was changed from a gluttonous to a disciplined and healthy eater.

Tools of grace

a tool filled weekend wicked little cake company-640
a tool filled weekend by wicked little cake company, Flickr Creative Commons

I knew God had provided me with that image of my sister-in-law as the concrete motivator. He then revealed his toolbox through the infusion of grace received from Him in adoration. Tools of memories, ideas, plans and specific actions continued unfolding week to week until today I can say that I have reached my goal. Dieting has been completed; the discipline is engrained in me forever. The elephant will not return.

Just be, and let it happen

All I had to do was answer a simple invitation to spend time alone with God without any other agenda than to just be. He knew my need long before I knew it and He provided generously and in many concrete forms.

We may not be able to touch grace. But grace most certainly touches us.

Click to Tweet & ShareI reached my weight loss goal through the toolbox of Grace http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1Lq

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

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How can I release regrets in my life? Try this spiritual exercise.

NOTE: I have a bunch of these spiritual exercises in River of Grace called Flow Lessons and I thought I would share them with you. Give it a try and see what happens!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

flow lesson logo-640

Materials needed: pen or pencil and paper; a large sink or bathtub; a small, empty Tupperware; various small objects that will not be harmed should they get wet


Note: If you belong to a faith tradition that practices the sacraments (such as the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal or Orthodox faiths), making use of the Sacrament of  Reconciliation/Confession/Absolution is the best place to start when dealing with regrets. The kind counsel of the priest coupled with the reception of sanctifying grace provides true spiritual healing. The value of this exercise is for any leftover regrets you were unable to release after reception of the sacrament.

Be still

This may be a difficult exercise so you will want to take some extra time to be in the presence of God. Use previous practices such as slow breathing, birds flying away from a tree or placing objects in a bag to clear your mind of cares and anxieties.

David Stanley Sunset Over the Rupununi, Flickr Creative Commons

Recalling regrets

There are times in our lives when we feel we have fallen short in our actions, failing to do our best for someone we love or even doing something that caused harm to that person. This can cause a tremendous burden of guilt and regret. Even if others disagree with our assessment of our actions, our own perception is what is real to us. We may have even already confessed our shortfall but still feel burdened with regret. With all this in mind, take a moment to recall any regrets in your life with regards to failing someone you loved (just as I regretted not being more present to my mother’s immediate needs). Write them down.

Preparing to release your regrets

Regrets are burdens that need to be off loaded and released; this exercise will provide a concrete means to do so. Taking your list, go to the sink or bathtub and fill it with water (consider using the bathtub as it will make the exercise more effective). Take a small Tupperware and place it in the water. Have your objects in a pile next to your paper. Pick up an object and assign it something from your list, speaking that something out loud. For example: “I would not kiss my mother.” Place the object in the Tupperware. Do this for every item on your list. After doing so, place your list in the Tupperware as well.

Push them away …

Pull the Tupperware towards the edge of the sink or bathtub (in essence, anchoring it). Closing your eyes, imagine yourself sitting on a dock next to Jesus, leaning in to him. You and he are swinging your feet over a large barge filled to the brim with heavy rubble. Imagine looking into Jesus’ eyes and saying the following prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Say this prayer out loud several times. As you say the prayer, imagine the Lord pointing to your feet and instructing you to place them on the rim of the barge; he is doing the same. Imagine yourself pushing the barge away with the Lord and watching it float downstream and out of site.

Mark Morgan 0522 Rust Barge, Flickr Creative Commons

… and give thanks

Open your eyes and release your Tupperware, pushing it slowly away; in effect releasing all of those objects labeled with your regrets. As you watch it float away, say, “Thank you Jesus for releasing my burden” for each object in that Tupperware (even if that thank you does not yet feel genuine).

Pray and ponder …

Take a moment to be still with God, and reflect upon what has just occurred. If you feel so inclined, write down your impressions. Thank God for forgiving you and for taking from you the burden of your regrets.

00 cover drop shadowcopyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey;
from Chapter 2 of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times,
published by Ave Maria Press

Click to Tweet & Share: Got a barge load of regrets you want to get rid of? Try this spiritual exercise http://wp.me/p2D9hg-1Lg #riverofgrace

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

On the journey to harmony–Thoreau, the Sound Map and opening up the inner eye

In my quest for a harmonious life I understand the need to be still. Certain tools help in that effort:

  • Reading, to organize my thoughts.
  • Praying, to tap into my soul, drawing me closer to God.
  • Time spent outdoors, especially in the Spring, to quiet myself.

Achieving mindfulness

The landscape is slowly coming to life here in New England and when I see signs of Spring, I think of Henry David Thoreau. His intimate knowledge of the outdoors came from a sense of mindfulness–no detail missed his watchful eye. He took the time to be still and observe. And in following that simple maxim, the world revealed itself to him.

roses-640

New book on Thoreau

I recently reviewed a book on my Louisa May Alcott blog by Corinne Hosfeld Smith (certified tour guide of the Thoreau birthplace and author of Westward I Go Free: Tracing Thoreau’s Last Journey) called Henry David Thoreau for Kids:

thoreau for kids

Demanding writer

I welcomed this book because while I have always appreciated Thoreau’s message, I find his his works difficult to get through. The writing is dense, demanding your full attention. Many of us suffered through high school and college English classes with his classic Walden. And yet, that message of a different way of living got through to me even though I could not begin to digest all the words.

Making Thoreau concrete

What I loved about Henry David Thoreau for Kids were the twenty-one activities geared for middle school students that help you live out his ideas. Many of these activities are just as engaging for adults.

I was intrigued by the exercise which encouraged the participant to sit outdoors for thirty minutes in total silence, waiting for wildlife to appear. Sure enough, after a few moments birds and other creatures come close for observation. I was eager to try this exercise in my quest to be still.

pansies-640

Helpful tool

Stillness, however, does not come easily in this busy world so I was grateful that Smith recommended another exercise to help me focus–creating a sound map.

Sitting in my lawn chair, I sketched the area you see here in my notebook and every time I heard a sound from nature, I drew an “x” where I thought I heard it and wrote down what it was. As you can see, I heard quite a bit!

panoramic photo (uses first and third photo)2-720

From listening to observing

In the listening, I began to appreciate the visual imagery around me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Stillness opens the inner eye

Stillness and mindfulness are hard to achieve in this high tech, multi-tasking, noisy world. Patience and due diligence are rewarded however with the opening of the inner eye, that which sees beauty and truth around us and eventually, within us. It’s a simple truth really: the wonder of life and how it was created, and how we are lucky to be alive despite all the challenges.

Houghton MS Am 1506 (4)-Cranch
Houghton MS Am 1506 (4)-Cranch

A compatriot of Thoreau’s, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once wrote of the transparent eyeball, an expression for which he was mocked. Wikipedia explains it this way:

 “The transparent eyeball is a philosophical metaphor originated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The transparent eyeball is a representation of an eye that is absorbent rather than reflective, and therefore takes in all that nature has to offer.”

Emerson experienced an epiphany that day–the discovery of the ability to read between the lines in the world around him, and come to an understanding of a deeper existence within him.

Once that eye is opened …

… you never want it to close. All of a sudden, the smallest things become lovely, compelling, even exciting. Once I became mindful of what surrounded me in the natural world, I couldn’t get enough of it, especially when it came to bird watching and kayaking.

And once I made a commitment to pay attention to what was there inside of me, allowing myself to to be drawn closer to my Creator, I find I can’t get enough of that either.

Silence is becoming an elixir.

I understand from the great mystics that you can learn to be quiet and still even in the midst of noise and chaos. Wouldn’t that be something! Somehow I think a bunch of people with that kind of inner harmony could truly change the world for the good. Think about it.

harmony1

Your time of stillness

Try spending thirty minutes in the woods, in a field or by a pond this Spring. Create your own sound map and share it here. Let’s compare notes and find out how we are doing on our journey to harmony.

You can find out more about Henry David Thoreau for Kids here, and read about the author, Corinne Hosfeld Smith, here.

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

 

 

With prayer book in hand (and cat on my lap): achieving harmony through chanted prayer

the lord's prayerFamiliarity breeds contempt. It’s true, even with prayer. Maybe especially with prayer.

  • Do the prayers taught to you as a child still mean anything to you?
  • How can something we’ve recited so many times still stir the heart and fill the soul?

Hailmaryweb2Most of us have been reciting The Lord’s Prayer since we were children. In my Roman Catholic tradition, I was also taught the “Hail Mary,” a prayer to my guardian angel, and the “Act of Contrition,” said when I confessed my sins to the priest. I’ve said those many, many times.

In nursery school my children were taught a simple prayer before meals that is familiar to most everyone:

“God is great, God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen”

It was the prayer we said as a family before meals for many years.

When do prayers such as these lose their meaning? Can it be restored, and how? Continue reading “With prayer book in hand (and cat on my lap): achieving harmony through chanted prayer”

Unearthing spiritual nuggets in classic literature–a sampling of Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message

slide 3 - joan howardNOTE: My book is on sale at 50% off through next Wednesday, April 20th. Great time to give it a try–click here.

I came very late to reading. And I was led there by someone with whom I have been fascinated all my life: Louisa May Alcott.

I discovered Louisa through a children’s biography given to me by my aunt after we had visited Orchard House, a museum home dedicated to the Alcott family, and the home where Louisa wrote her classic, Little Women.

Sometimes we meet authors
who penetrate
our hearts to the core.

Continue reading “Unearthing spiritual nuggets in classic literature–a sampling of Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message”

Hiding ourselves in the wounds of Christ – a post-Easter reflection

This is my April column for the Catholic Free Press.

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The gospel reading for the first Sunday after Easter features the doubting Thomas as depicted in John 20:24–29. I have always been moved by his story. In my book, River of Grace, I wrote the following:

“When the others told him that they had ‘seen the Lord,’ he refused to believe. He treated their story with skepticism that bordered on rejection. He was provocative in his declaration that he would not believe unless he placed his hand in the side of Jesus and probed the wounds with his fingers. Thomas deliberately pushed away any semblance of hope that Jesus was alive. He did not dare to believe. Reading that passage I understood the bitterness in his demands and the refusal to face his pain. When Jesus appeared to all the apostles several days later, he invited Thomas to do as the others had done: touch his wounds.”

Death is a traumatic experience. In the case of Jesus, it came as a total shock to the disciples despite the fact that Jesus had warned them many times of his impending death. He also promised them hope in the aftermath. Yet as we have witnessed in the readings following Easter, even when Jesus was right in front of them, they could not believe. Continue reading “Hiding ourselves in the wounds of Christ – a post-Easter reflection”

“Is My Day Your Day”: Meditations on the wounds of Christ

MARCH 31, 2016–Today’s meditation from The Word Among Us (based upon Luke 24:35-48) reflects upon the wounds Christ received at his death–wounds that remained on his glorified body after the resurrection:

“Jesus’ victory looked so different from what the disciples had expected. Instead of arriving with a king’s crown or a huge army, he returned bearing the wounds of a brutal death. Even though he is now risen in glory, his body remains marred. He isn’t just restored to his former state—he is transformed in a way that reflects the price he paid for our salvation. God didn’t just press a reset button. He took Jesus through death into a new and eternal life.

Jesus’ scars are the marks of his love for us—a love unto death. Every day, he invites us to gaze at these wounds and to see in them the proof of his victory. What’s more, he wants to convince us that he can turn our own wounds into marks of triumph. There is no situation too desperate for him to overcome.”

It may seem morbid to focus on such graphic wounds. But then I am reminded of the love behind those wounds, the love that gave Jesus the courage to follow through with his suffering so that we might know hope in this life and paradise beyond this life.

When I put together my sung rosary book (Mary, Queen of Peace Meditation Guide & Sung Rosary) I included a special meditation on those wounds, based upon a simple practice in Eastern Catholic prayer–that of repeating “Lord, have mercy!”

I invite you try this meditation and see where it leads. It’s led me to some pretty amazing spiritual places.

Meditations on the Wounds of Christ

5th sorrowful betania II full smallA prayer frequently chanted during the Divine Office in the Eastern Catholic Church is “Lord, have mercy.” Often this prayer is chanted 40 times in succession.

I formulated a method with this repetition that turned into a meaningful devotion focusing on the wounds of Christ:

  1. Gazing upon the crucifix, begin by reciting or chanting “Lord, have mercy” 5 times. Each time it is recited, focus on a wound on Christ’s body. For example, recite “Lord, have mercy” and meditate on Christ’s feet. Recite it again and focus on the left hand. Recite it a third time and meditate on the right hand. Recite it again and gaze on the wound in his side. Then recite it a fifth time and focus on the head.
  2. Repeat this cycle 8 times, thus reciting or chanting the prayer 40 times in total.I found, for example, that as I focused on the nail marks in His feet, I thought about where those feet had traveled. I studied the wounded hands and wondered whom they had healed. I thought about his heart, pierced and yet so full of love. I thought about the head and the emotional and mental agony he went through, and yet also marveled at all the wisdom and knowledge that resided in that head. I recalled his teachings, exhortations, and words of comfort.

These are just some of the places where this devotion can take you. May the Spirit of the Living Lord guide you as you gaze upon His wounds and contemplate His love.

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Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog andreceive your free coloring book (and more).

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion