Enchanting New Mexico

We have had a love affair with New Mexico since we first came here thirty years ago, and crossing the border this time felt just as remarkable.  There were specific things we had on our itinerary and first was a trip to the town of Las Vegas, in the northeastern corner of the state where we were in search of a very special building.

The original “Big Cowgirl”oil painting  lived in our home in Keene for many years.

The story is that years ago, in our life back in New Hampshire, we had purchased a large oil painting by a Massachusetts realist painter named Randall Deihl.  For a decade, “Big Cowgirl” hung on the wall of our high-ceilinged condominium in Keene, reminding us of all things about the west that we loved.  There were lots of stories about the painting that had developed over time, but what we did know is that it was painted when the artist lived in Santa Fe in the 1990s, because he was inspired by a mural on a building in Las Vegas, New Mexico and we were on a quest to see if we could locate it.

The Calumet mural on the building in downtown Las Vegas. This inspired the “Big Cowgirl” painting by Randall Deihl.

We learned that the building mural was created for the 1984 movie, Red Dawn, which was set in the fictitious town of Calumet, Colorado, which explains why the mural (and the painting) reads, “Calumet Say Howdy”.  The film was partially shot in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  That much we had learned along the way when “Big Cowgirl” lived in our home.  When we dramatically changed our lives in 2014, selling most of our artwork and possessions to live on the road, “Big Cowgirl” was donated to lthe Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Their collection of contemporary Western Art was part of the inspiration to send her there, hoping she would enrich the visitor experience. We felt that finding the actual mural that inspired Deihl would bring a close to our history with “Big Cowgirl”.  It wasn’t hard to find the mural when we got to town, near the intersection of Grand Avenue and Lincoln Street.  The years haven’t been kind to the mural, but that happens when certain parts of town begin to loose their luster.

Great New Mexico cooking at Charlie’s in Las Vegas.

We paid our respects to our Cowgirl and then set out for the local historical museum.  After finishing our tour we got a recommendation for the best place to eat authentic New Mexican cooking.  The place is called Charlie’s and the food was simply unforgettable with burritos and flautas served on just-made flour tortillas and topped with the freshest of green and red chile. Peter enjoyed his burrito and I savored every tasty bite of my chicken flautas with black beans and more chile sauce. Wow.

The kiva at Pecos Pueblo.

Our excursion to Las Vegas included a return to Pecos Pueblo, a ruin that we had visited in 1992.  The historically accurate name is Cicuique Pueblo and this site is significant for a few reasons, not the least is that it was first studied in the early 1900s by Alfred V. Kidder, considered the foremost archeologist of the Southwest.  That careful study is the reason we know as much as we do today about these people who lived in this valley for hundreds of years before the arrival of the Spanish in 1541.  This was a very successful, well-fortified, and wealthy pueblo whose trade reputation was enhanced by their location in the valley of the Glorieta Pass through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains connecting the Rio Grande Valley with Great Plains. At its peak, about 2,000 people were estimated to live there and ancestral farming practices provided sustenance.

When the Spanish arrived, everything changed.  In 1610, the early Franciscans tried to convert the people who resented the imposition of the invaders’ religion and the destruction of their sacred kivas and the banning of their ceremonies.  There were three mission churches built here on the same foundation: the first in 1621, the second 1677 and the third in 1717. The pueblo participated of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 which did temporarily drive out the Spanish oppressors.

Ruins of the 1717 church and Pecos Pueblo.

In addition to suffering through the Spanish oppressions, there were raids by Navajo and Apaches, and later Comanches.  Peace and prosperity did not ever return to the pueblo and even when the Spanish returned with a more conciliatory mindset, the population did not recover.  After a slow decline, the final group of residents left the pueblo in 1838 and joined their linguistic cousins at Jemez Pueblo.  The skeleton of the last church still stands and here we were able to pay our respects and sit in the warm sunshine for a short time, imagining the lives and stories and humanity these walls hold, grateful for the careful attention to the care and upkeep of these fragile structures.

Harry’s Roadhouse in Santa Fe.  This photo is courtesy of their website.

After a couple of days, we moved down the valley, returning to one of our all-time favorite campsites at Cochiti Lake.  Situated about 30 minutes from Santa Fe and 45 from Albuquerque, it is isolated, quiet and remarkably beautiful.  We met up with some Airstream friends for lunch at Harry’s Roadhouse in Santa Fe, a fun, quirky and delightful place with a spectacular outdoor patio tucked under shade trees and pinon pines that is completely engaging with its rustic, southwest style furniture and colorful table coverings.

We watched the full moon rise one magnificent night, sitting outside until its reflection became visible in the lake waters below.   Peter cooked up some amazing bison burgers one afternoon and we relished the abundant harvest of avocados and green and red chile available here in New Mexico which make those burgers exceptional.

Sanctuario de Chimayo on a late summer day.

One late summer afternoon, we took a drive to the countryside and caught the incredible beauty of the long shadows on the hills and mesas up east of here in Chimayo.  No trip to New Mexico would be the same for us without the pilgrimage to the little Sanctuario de Chimayo, an adobe church built in the early 1800s by an early Spanish land owner who was a devoted follower of a pilgrimage site in Guatemala where the clay is known to heal.  Soon, the red dirt of Chimayo became known for its healing and the lovely chapel, now owned by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, is a well-established site for visitors around the world.  The lovely handprinted wooden altar is remarkable, and no photos are permitted in the Sanctuario so you will have to come see it for yourself.

Peter navigates the slot canyon at Kasha-Katuwe.

We hiked in Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument where the slot canyon presented some challenges for us.  The early morning cool breezes made the three-hour hike much more tolerable for us and we would highly recommend it with the disclaimer that the last 1/8 mile is very challenging with rocks and crawl techniques that kept us from the final ascent.  Nonetheless, it was wonderful.

Our next hike in Petroglyphs National Monument in Albuquerque was on our bucket list since our first trip here thirty years ago.  The story of the preservation of the 14-mile volcanic escarpment is nothing short of miraculous in light of the rapid growth in the city.  In five short years, the public coalition of landowners, Pueblo people, conservationists and philanthropists put together the Petroglyph National Monument which protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America, roughly 25,000, featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago.

Maccaw petroglyph on the walking trail of the same name at Petroglyph National Monument.

These images are a valuable record of cultural expression and hold profound spiritual significance for contemporary Native Americans and for the descendants of the early Spanish settlers.

We wrapped up our time in the Land of Enchantment with a week in Albuquerque at a retreat which fed our hearts and our souls as we heard from inspirational teachers Fr. Richard Rohr, Mirabai Starr, Barbara Brown Taylor, Brian McLaren, and Barbara Hughes.  In an example of great synchronicity, while at the retreat we met people from two places that hold a precious place in our New Mexico memories – Tesuque, where we came on our wedding trip thirty years ago; and Silver City, the place that keeps showing up on our short list of places for a stay of several months.  We’ve left with our hearts full with possibilities and hope.

At Duran’s Pharmacy, chili, fresh tortilla and Happy Camper, one of my favorite IPAs from Santa Fe Brewery.

We couldn’t leave Albuquerque without a visit to the Rio Grande River on a lovely, hot, summery afternoon.  Another tradition added to our periodic visits to New Mexico, which will hopefully be more frequent in the coming years on the road.

We now head north to our beloved Wyoming and an extended visit to the Grand Tetons which includes our reunion time with old and dear friends at the Triangle X Ranch in Moose.  Who knows what other remarkable adventures await us in this pilgrimage that is our lives.  We invite you to come on along with us. We’re grateful for your companionship.

Liz and Peter continue their travels in their Airstream, on the way to Wyoming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Adventures in paradise and various utopias. Part 1.

A visit to our friend Mark’s tiki bar which he constructed completely of repurposed materials. Wonderful!

On Sunday, we spent a glorious, lazy summer day with our friend Mark at his tiki bar, The Sunset Grill, on the shore of a lovely little lake in Brown County, Indiana.  The tiki bar is dedicated to a sense of escape from the ordinary and humdrum into a paradise that those of us of a certain age have populated with common, even if distinct, memories.  The tiki bars of our younger days often included a soundtrack of Jimmy Buffet songs, and a kitschy decor of fishnets and buoys and mermaids and drinks with paper parasols.  The paradise of the tiki bar is unrelated to anything historically accurate and more like an island nirvana straight out of the imagination.

This imaginative search for something other than the ordinary seems hardwired into our human brains.  This past month we have been visiting some utopian communities (and no other tiki bars) throughout the northeast, discovering points of congruence and divergence in each.  What they have in common, as Chris Jennings writes in his remarkable new book, Paradise Now, is knowing that the dream of utopia is eternal.  “We walk through this world imagining another, better existence…sometimes a flawless society right here (or) just a few years hence,”  he muses.  Oscar Wilde wrote, “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at…”

Our interest in researching and visiting utopian communities is directly linked to our volunteer gig at the Koreshan Unity Settlement in Estero, Florida.  We learned that the founder of Koreshan, Cyrus Teed, was an admirer of the Shakers and in 1892 was recognized as a brother in full membership of the Mount Lebanon, New York Shaker community.  The intersection of these two utopian communities then launched our itinerary for this summer.

Shaker furniture exemplifies their spiritual ideals of simplicity and beauty.

We began with a trio of visits to Shaker villages – first in Canterbury, NH then Hancock, MA and finally Mount Lebanon, NY – to learn more about the Shakers and their beliefs.  The last surviving village (in Sabbathday, Maine) is the longest-lived utopian community in the United States, having been founded in 1783 and still in existence. There are currently two surviving Believers.   The Shakers, a Protestant religious sect officially called The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, originated in Manchester, England in 1747. “Mother” Ann Lee, “Father” William Lee, “Father” James Whittaker and a small group of followers settled in 1776 at a site called Watervliet, now in the Town of Colonie outside of Albany, New York. The community they started grew through the 1800s to 18 relatively self-sufficient communities, The Shaker population peaked of approximately 4,500 members in the mid 1800s.

The Round Barn was a model of efficiency for the Shakers. Cattle were fed from a central hay chute and cows entered the outside lower level.  Part of the huge communal garden can be seen in the foreground.

If you have any visual impression of the Shakers it may be of the exquisite, simple and beautifully crafted furniture (“hands to work, hearts to God” is their living prayer).  Mine was  the stunning round stone barn, the iconic image from Hancock Village.  When we arrived at the Hancock Shaker Village, seeing the round stone barn, built in 1865, just overwhelmed me.  It was one of those moments when you come face to face with something that has previously existed only in your imagination.  In those moments, things can go one of two ways and for me, I witnessed the barn as more beautiful than my first memory of the barn which I first saw in the 1972 book, Observations on American Architecture, by the late Ivan Chermayeff.  To be standing in that barn over four decades later was exquisite, seeing it all over again for the first time, to borrow from T. S. Eliot.

Two of the three Shaker villages we visited had handsome brick dormitories where men and women lived on opposite sides, dined in separate sides, and entered and left the building from different doorways. Celibacy was a key theological component of their lives.

The pristine and stunning spareness of the Shaker villages reflected their adherence to simplicity and celibacy and equality for men and women which defined them as a community.  How wondrous it would be to visit the surviving two Believers in Maine and hear their voices and bear witness to their lives in this day of incredible complexity.  The visit to Hancock was richly embellished when we learned of a special dinner, with farm-to- table fare, to be held in the barn the following night.  The fundraiser featured the author Chris Jennings, talking about his book on utopian communities, which I noted earlier.  The evening was one long beautiful dream and we left with indelible memories of food, interesting conversations and two autographed copies of the book which is proving invaluable in our continued research.

Peter with a life size bronze of some of the leaders of the Women’s Rights Convention including here, right, Lucretia Mott and Frederick Douglass.

From here, we ventured to Seneca Falls, New York and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park which tells the story of the first Women’s Rights Convention held there in 1848. It is a story of struggles for civil rights, human rights, and equality – global struggles that continue today. The efforts of women’s rights leaders, abolitionists, and other 19th century reformers was directly linked to the rise of utopian communities in the 19th century, so this became an important stop on our trip.

One of the most exciting of the stops included a three hour visit to Hamilton College and the Communal Societies Special Collections.  Through our contact at Koreshan, we learned that the archives here at Hamilton College contain some unusual Koreshan materials and a stunning collection of the Koreshan publications, The Flaming Sword and The American Eagle, critically important in the understanding of the teachings of the Koreshans.

From a rare book in the Hamilton Collect Special Collections, a photograph and autograph of Cyrus Teed’s right hand. The inscription reads, “In the name of humanity. Koresh (Cyrus R. Teed)”

We spent the afternoon at Hamilton College with Christian Goodwillie, the Director and Curator of Special Collections and Archives, who provided invaluable information and unconditional support for our peripatetic journey across the country visiting utopian communities.  He made a few suggestion for other communities we should visit and we are deeply grateful.

Upstate New York was a virtual Petri dish for the experiment of utopian communities in the mid-1800s.  One of the most controversial was the Oneida Community founded in 1847 by John Humphrey Noyes.  It lasted until 1881 and had nearly 300 members. Noyes believed he could create a perfect society based on his own interpretation of Christian theology by committing to sharing all labor and property and disbanding the conventions of marriage and nuclear families.  Their open marriage and collective childrearing are familiar themes that re-emerged in the communal societies of the 1960s.

Antique postcard from the Oneida Community Main House from 1907. The Community had disbanded by then.

Perhaps the most controversial of Noyes’ teachings was his experiment in eugenics in which a committee of elders determined the spiritual credentials of the potential father and mother and determined who could “breed”.   There were 4 dozen children born from these matings.  The children were raised by their mothers until the age of 9 months and then put in a communal nursery.   It turns out that Noyes himself was the father of about 20% of the children.  When the word got out about these more controversial practices, Noyes was run out of town, fled to Canada  and the community dwindled.  The group dissolved in 1879 and in 1880 they voted to reorganized as shareholders in the profitable organization, Oneida Silver and other business.  As the author Chris Jennings notes, “The future is a strange land.  Picturing it, however imperfectly, requires a strange mind”.

Until Part 2 of our trip to utopian communities, time for a dip in the hot tub on the deck at the tiki bar.  Peace, everyone. 

Peter and Liz continue their visits to utopian communities in their Airstream, next to the three locations of the Rappites the first two in Pennsylvania, then Indiana.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The end of the road.

I am an incurable romantic and quite capable of being brought to tears by the most improbable of situations.  Today was one of those days where I have been reduced to a melancholy and teary reflection based on a decision that had to be made.  Today,  I parted company with Big Red, my well traveled, reliable suitcase.  Big Red was huge and clunky compared to the standards of today’s suitcases with over 6,400 cubic inches of carrying space.  His wheels were worn out, his retractable handle long ago succumbed to the indignity of duct tape and his zipper, twice replaced, had seen better days.   His ballistic nylon fabric, once deep red, had faded and he had actually suffered a mysterious burn somewhere and his sides were deeply worn along the edges.  After one long flight, he limped off the baggage carousel with a puncture and tear caused by some errant fork lift.  It couldn’t be repaired. Continue reading

New England around the 4th of July.

The Ashuelot River runs along the border of our campsite in Swanzey, New Hampshire. The summer season is an especially glorious time to be here.

When it comes to the most beautiful places we have seen in our travels, there is little that can compare to an early July morning in verdant New Hampshire.  It was one of the things I loved most about my decades living in the Granite State and it is shear indulgence to be able to selectively return when the climate here outdoes itself feeding the soul.  We had booked a full four weeks at Ashuelot River Campground for our summer address and under the caring attention of Chuck and Laura, we are thoroughly enjoying our seasonal home. Continue reading

Eating our way through the South.

The happy epicure, here in Savannah awaiting biscuits at Back in the Day Bakery.

One of the delights of our travels is we occasionally treat ourselves to eating out and sampling the local cuisine.  We are pretty picky in our choices and since Peter is such a wonderful cook, our standards are high.  Last fall, we sampled perhaps the best of Southern fried chicken in a funky place called the Old Country Store in Lorman, Mississippi where the proprietor, Mr. D, comes by occasionally to serenade his stuffed and very happy customers.   What made it special?  The sheer lightness and crispiness of the batter, which served to lock in the tender and flavorful chicken which was fried hot in a cast iron skillet. This place does chicken right.  Our time in Abbeville, Louisiana included some étouffée that was ethereal, so rather than try to compare those highlights, we opened the horizons to new experiences of some traditional dishes with new flair. Here is an eclectic mix of some of the highlights from Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina and Wilmington, North Carolina.

At Belfords, Peter prepares to indulge in one crab cake Benedict, and. half a fried oyster po’boy. We shared!

First in Savannah, the crab cakes Benedict were amazing at a place called Belfords on Franklin Square.  The crab cakes were moist, perfectly flavored and rich with tender crab meat (very little breading).  They were topped with a perfectly poached egg and Cajun remoulade sauce with just a touch of heat.  Peter ordered a fried oyster po’ boy, just because, and loved every decadent bite.

I’ve been researching the best buttermilk biscuits, one of the traditional of Southern foods that are hard to get right and easy to mess up.  In Savannah, we headed to a beautiful little bakery called Back in the Day.  It came highly recommended and so we wandered over one Sunday morning.  One of their specialities is buttermilk biscuit breakfast sandwiches and they did not disappoint. The biscuits are perfectly made and light and flavorful.  The compact egg frittata, with cheddar cheese, was flavored with a touch of thyme.

Lemon scone, glaze, and pistachios from Back in the Day Bakery.

Later, I found out that the owner-baker was nominated for the James Beard Outstanding Baker award.  In addition to the buttermilk biscuit, the lemon scone topped with pistachios is beyond belief.  This place is worth the stop.

As New Englanders, we know a lot about ice cream and Peter will happily remind folks that we native Yankees are known to consume more of the delectable dessert than those in any other part of the country.  So when my well-traveled sister (a resident of Connecticut, one of the original thirteen colonies) recommended the ice cream at Leopold’s in Savannah, we paid attention.  The ice cream parlor is great fun with movie posters and kitschy decor, including a telephone booth, and the first time we went by on a Sunday, the line was a half a block long and we decided this is why we were staying for four days.  We returned on Monday and with no wait.

Enjoying the Lemon custard ice cream at Leopold’s.

One of their hallmark flavors is called Lemon Custard, which is rich lemon ice cream with fresh lemon zest and subtle lemon flavor.   The winning recipe is unchanged since 1919 and I can see why.

So while we are on ice cream, let me share the experience of the amazing Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in Charleston, South Carolina.  Located in the hip neighborhood of King Street the store is filled with display cases of the fabulous and very unusual flavors of Jeni Britton Bauer who started making ice cream in Columbus, Ohio in 2002.  What distinguishes her ice cream is the unusual combination of flavors, the delectable nature of the ingredients, high in butterfat and low in air, which are creamy and rich and not filled with sugar or thickeners.  The flavors change with the seasons as fresh fruits change.

Half-scoop samples of coffee chocolate chip, lavender berry, and Savannah buttercream mint at Jeni’s.

On our first trip (yes, we made two distinct visits!), it was brambleberry crisp which is made with brambleberry jam laced with tasted oat streusel in rich vanilla ice cream.  Then it was a smooth lemony, rich cream laced with what I remember as after dinner mints. Oh my.  Jeni’s has begun packaging these dreams from heaven in pints which are now available through the country, but I’m not sure if that is good news, or not!

Peter’s quest around the South was for fried oysters and after the po’ boy, it was lunch at Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar in downtown Charleston.  These fried oysters were light and tender and there was nothing left over. On a gorgeous, spring day, we walked from the restaurant to the lovely Waterfront Park and its iconic Pineapple Fountain which apparently doubles as a wading pool for residents during the heat of summer.

Grilled shrimp in butter and garlic on fried grouper at Seewee’s Restaurant.

The fried oyster sampling culminated (at least to date!) at a funky roadhouse called SeeWee Restaurant north the city in Awendaw.  The decor alone in this restaurant that’s been serving southern home cooking for decades is worth the trip.  The food was up to the locals’ recommendation.  The fried oysters were great and my grilled local shrimp on top of fried local grouper was equally tops.  So much food was served that we took it home and re-heated for lunch the next day and it was just as tasty.

We headed up next to Wilmington, North Carolina and decided to tour the riverfront downtown along the Peace River.  In the process we tripped upon a place called The Peppered Cupcake, which apparently is known for its remarkable tiny cakes.  We have a world class pastry chef in the family (one of my sisters) so we are accustomed to some of the best in buttercreams, ganache, and light cakes.

Rose water buttercream raspberry cupcake from The Peppered Cupcake.

Let me say that this place is amazing.  First of all, the little restaurant is comfortably air-conditioned and that is a first clue as to the attention of the owner-baker.  Climate control makes for superb buttercream chemistry and texture. Second, the little cakes are gorgeous to look at, each one a tiny masterpiece that one hesitates (but only briefly) to destroy.  And third, the taste which is often an unusual combination of ingredients. It’s called The Peppered Cupcake because of the addition of peppers and chilis that are used in some of the recipes.  In addition to that, the offerings include coconut buttercreams, and brownie chocolate ganache and the devine rose water raspberry.  We fully intended to eat one in the sweet little Victorian shop and take the other two home but the poor dears never had a chance to make the trip after we tasted the first morsels.  Besides, it was too warm a day and the buttercream would have been stressed out.  Really.

Ending this Mother’s Day post with a variety of chocolate offerings including mocha, peppered mango, and coffee buttercream from The Peppered Cupcake.

 

Peter and Liz continue their gastronomic sampling through North Carolina and Virginia as they work their way around the South in their Airstream.

 

 

 

(Savannah) Georgia on my mind.

Our home in Savannah was the spectacular Skidaway Island State Park with long leaf pine and towering oaks.

We both needed the four days of delectable sleep and complete rest that we experienced outside of Gainesville, Florida at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. As when waking from a long night’s deep sleep we moved slowly and intentionally, first sitting symbolically upright and then consciously putting our feet firmly on the ground, exhilarated to find all our parts still in working order. Continue reading

Spring cleaning before heading north.

The tools from the spring cleaning tool belt. All that is missing is the baking soda, already in the frig.

Each year, in springtime, I commit to a comprehensive T2 cleaning.  It’s usually spread over a few days with Day 1 always starting with the triannual refrigerator defrosting.  Perhaps it’s because it is my least favorite cleaning task and I know that once starting it, I have committed to  the no-turning-back process.  The best part is the ritual that ends with putting the fresh new box of  baking soda in place and writing the date on the duct tape patch on the inside the refrigerator door.

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Collecting pottery shards of our pilgrim life.

Pottery shards in situ. Photo credits: oldpueblo.org.

A fellow Airstreamer recently posted a blog (Life on the Blue Highways) with a picture of some pottery shards that he discovered in New Mexico.  These shards struck me as a metaphor for the past few days at Koreshan State Park.  Like the shards, each day offered some unique new element in the whole field of our lives here.

 

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Celebrating my birthday with the women of Koreshan in Florida.

In-costume at Koreshan State Park during Women’s History Month with my favorite baker.

I’m writing this blog on my birthday and I have been given the most exquisite of gifts: a morning of solitude in T2, our sanctuary.  I’ve been reading poetry and found two snippets from poems that fit my reflection today.  Stanley Kunitz, at the age of 79 mused, “Maybe it’s time for me to practice growing old. The way I look at it, I’m passing through a phase…” while Billy Collins, at the age of 70, whimsically observed, “One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago as I waited for my eggs and toast, I opened the Tribune only to discover that I was the same age as Cheerios”. Continue reading

The Steinway piano of Estero, Florida.

The 1885 Steinway concert piano, with 85 keys, on the stage of the Art Hall.  Thank you Ann Mangan for the photograph.

On Friday, February 23, something grace-filled occurred at the Art Hall at the Koreshan Unity Settlement. A little after 2:00 pm, concert pianist Bella Gutshtein, sat down to play the 1885 Steinway piano. Before she put her hands on the keys of this concert piano, she urged her small audience to remember that in the face of whatever darkness we may have in our lives, music and beauty can offer light. Then, she breathed life into a few movements of a Brahm’s piano concerto, and I was aware of the extraordinary gift of grace that I had received. Continue reading