Thursday, December 18, 2008

I live next to Macbeth

Yes, supposedly it's true... Macbeth, along with most of the other old kings of Scotland, is buried across the road from my house. I get to walk past Macbeth every morning. I'm not sure if Lady Macbeth is there. I also get to walk past the effigies of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll every day on my way to work. And this morning I accidentally put a bunch of my papers on top of one of the old Abbot's faces (there are two abbots' effigies in the front of the church), without thinking, on my way to help put the Christmas tree up. No need to worry -- I did apologize... =) I am getting used to the thought of being around graves and gravestones, though. Ghosts, I'm not yet sure about.

There lots of ghost stories around here -- several have reported seeing monks, even having conversations with monks, when there aren't any monks on the island. One of our resident staff members says she saw a white-robed monk and thought "I saw the wrong monk ghost", but then realized that Columban monks wore white.

Also there's the story of the sacristan who came into the abbey late one night to find a young sailor with a trench coat kneeling by the communion table. Out of respect, the sacristan didn't disturb him, but came back the next morning to find a puddle of water and some seaweed that comes only from the deep part of the ocean. Puzzled, he went about his business. Two days later, the body of a young sailor, wearing a trench coat, and with the same kind of seaweed, washed up on the shore of the island and was buried in the cemetery across from my house.

And then the story of St. Oran... which I can't remember at the moment, but it involves St. Oran dying, being buried, years later being dug back up by his followers. When he was dug up, he was still alive but was blaspheming and speaking vilely, so they promptly buried him again. Yes -- he too is buried across the road from my house supposedly.

So last night, when I was walking home alone in the dark and nearly out of power in my torch (aka flashlight), and I heard a yowling... I was quite relieved to find it was just Lily our abbey cat. As much as I think monks are lovely people, especially Columban and Benedictine ones, I'm not terribly keen to see one. ;)

And it's one thing to say you don't believe any of this malarky, and entirely another to not be occasionally flustered at the thought of ghosts, on a dark and windy night, in a place with centuries upon centuries of history.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Yesterday was weird...

You ever have those days where everything's just a bit off?

Yesterday was weird.

I remembered I had a phone call to make, an hour after I was suppose to make it.

I remembered I had a song to lead in a workshop, 15 minutes after it was supposed to have started.

I remembered that dinner was 15 minutes earlier than usual, 15 minutes late for the meal.

I remembered that I was supposed to put some Christmas cards in the mail, a half hour after the post office closed for the day.

Yesterday was weird.

Thankfully nothing was too terribly messed up. I did have some apologies to make... and was thankful that everyone was gracious about it.

Here's hoping for a better day today...

Monday, December 08, 2008

My Favorite Season

When people say "What's your favorite season", I usually come up with something traditional like "spring" or "fall"... the trouble with that, though, is that those answers are constantly changing. I don't know what my favorite natural season is.

However, what I really have to bite my tongue to keep from saying when asked that question is "ADVENT!!" I usually save that answer for when I am surrounded by other church nerds like me...

Really, though, I love advent. Actually, I love advent more than Christmas (though I love Christmas, too). This year, especially, as the days get very noticeably shorter and shorter and don't start getting longer until -- you guessed it -- Christmas(ish), I could hardly wait for the time of preparation that means that Christmas is coming. Gee, whoever thought of the image of Christ as the light coming into the darkness must have lived in Scotland.

Also here where I don't have radio or TV or shopping malls or even decorated stores to bombard me with commercialization around Christmas, here where the signs of Christmas come first in the Isaiah readings for morning worships and in the lighting of advent candles on the table in the chapel, here where the supply of good Advent songs nearly outstrips the supply of good Christmas songs, I am having a field day. I love advent.

I think it's the journey that I love. I think it's the waiting, the practice of patience that is providing an exciting challenge. I think it's my English major's love of symbolism that has me wide-eyed, noticing so much more. It's like being on a train ride across the States -- so much to see on the journey that the destination becomes only part (albeit a wonderful part) of the whole.

And this time around, I get to help prepare worships and help other people think through what advent means. And I get to dig around in music, and when I find gems, I get to share them and sing them with other people.

(By the way, check out Sing the Journey if you get a chance -- a Mennonite Hymnal Supplement -- look for My Soul Cries Out, which is the Magnificat to the Star of the County Down tune, and look for Helpless and Hungry, which is a splendid countermelody to What Child is This.)

So if I've inspired excitement for advent in you, go out and get yourself an advent wreath and play with fire a bit and read good things and sing good songs... (but if you do, make sure your candles are 3 purple and 1 pink... not 4 red like over here...) and think of me. =)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Worship at the Iona Community

We have worship twice a day here -- at 9am before work and at 9pm at the very end of the day (things change in winter, but that's the routine for most of the year). I'm finding it very important to me to have the day framed by worship and prayer, even on the days when I'm not particularly paying attention or feeling prayerful. It reminds me that God is here no matter my experience, that my day is filled with God and goodness, whether I notice it or not -- indeed, whether I want it or not. I'm reminded of Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there.
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
If I settle on the far side of the sea,
Even there, your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say "Surely the darkness will hide me
And the light become night around me,"
Even the darkness will not be dark to you,
The night will shine like the day,
For darkness is as light to you.

Now add to that the fact that, as I sit writing this at 4:05pm, the sun has set, and it won't return until 8:30 tomorrow morning... it's nice to know that even the darkness is as light to God. =)

For all of this -- God's presence everywhere, the days framed by worship, the light in the midst of the dark -- I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Language Casualties (warning! adult content and language...)

1. Yesterday in the grocery store: "unsmoked joints"

2. A week ago in staff conversation: "where can I get some rubbers?" "There are lots of them in the cabinet in the front office. Help yourself."

3. Last time I was here in my words... oops: "Wait just a moment. I need to go get my fanny pack."

4. I've been trying to be really good at this one, but slipped up in talking about my murder mystery costume: "I think I'm just going to wear some black pants tonight. Does that sound okay?" (insert here shocked and then bemused faces of my housemates)

5. Last time I was here, in the words of a vollie: "I'm dying to suck a fag." (insert my shocked and confused face and a quick sputtering of explanation on his part...)

6. Last week at Dunsmeorach, conversation between my housemates: "We're going out. You coming?" "Yeah! I'm just going to get my glad rags on first, though."

And now the keys to those conversations, in case you need them... rubber = eraser, fanny does not equal bum, joint = a cut of meat, fag = cigarette, glad rags = dressy clothes, and, of course, pants = underwear.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Babies and choirs...

I've been thinking lots about babies lately... One of my friends is struggling with having lost a baby and all the grief that means, another of my friends is newly pregnant, another of my friends is very much wanting a baby but being able to have one seems unlikely. And there is a cute little kiddo that's part of the community here...

I've also been thinking lots about choirs lately... I lead about three or four different choirs a week, now, most of them full of people I've never met before...

And I have to say that there are some uncanny similarities between the two. (Didn't see that one coming, did you?) =)

I'll let you make most of the connections, but the biggest one I was learning last night was how much of a mirror babies and choirs are. I was directing a choir and realizing that they sounded very proper and were hitting all the right notes and making good sounds, but that they were very rigid and horizontal in their singing. As I tried to think of why, I realized that this is something that I, myself, struggle with, and I further realized that I had been teaching in a very horizontal manner. They were simply imitating something I was unconsciously demonstrating. It was amazing the way my choir mirrored to me something to improve in my own self and way of being.

Kids do that too, don't they? They have such a knack at making us notice things in ourselves, simply by their imitation of us. It is indeed a frightfully wonderful thing to be a part of a child's learning.

And choirs... perhaps a bit less frightful, but still quite wonderful. =)

Friday, October 31, 2008

So, what does the musician do in the winter, exactly?

Funny you should ask... another good question that I seem to be getting a lot lately...

The answer is, I'm not sure. I am the first musician they've ever had stay through the winter, so no one is quite sure. I do know that one possibility that I'm trying to work out is for me to go to Glasgow and work with the Wild Goose Resource Group / John Bell / Graeme Maule during January.

We also have guests for at least 3 weeks in the winter, including Christmas, at which time there is a big celebration leading up to Christmas and including a Christmas eve service, Christmas morning service, etc.

Resident staff also often take their vacation during that time.

And I plan on practicing as long as I can in the refrigerator-like abbey (last night as I was teaching the songs, I could see my breath... thank goodness for the portable electric heater by the piano and my housemate who is an expert at knitting fingerless gloves...), and I have a lot of investigating to do before I am familiar with what all is available to me in the loft in terms of resources. I also want to do some more organizing and planning of possible Big Sing and Wee Sing and workshop material before the season starts in earnest. It's been very easy so far to work 60 hour weeks, so any pre-planned stuff I can do during the season will be good.

And then, if all that happens and I'm still bored (doubtful, but...) there will only be two housekeepers, so I might just help them a bit...

Winter schedule starts in a week. Here we go! =)

By the way, I'm loving my job (in case you were wondering). I get paid to do all the stuff I love to do, especially the teaching about sacred music and the playing piano and directing choirs. More later. I'm off to take a nap.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

So what does the musician do, exactly?

Funny you should ask... I seem to be getting this question a lot... ;)

Here's what I've figured out so far:

1) Arrange music for all services each week -- 2 services a day, 13 a week that require music
1a) that means accompanying hymns myself and / or get someone to fill in for me (on my day and a half off each week)
1b) and that means getting people (resident staff, volunteers, and guests) to help me with music, adding instrumental or vocal solos or ensembles where appropriate.
1c) and that means that I rehearse those groups / solos
1d) and it also means that I arrange parts for instrumentalists when there are no appropriate parts for the songs

2) Lead a Big Sing every Sunday -- this is an overview of the music of the Iona Community (or some subset of that)

3) Lead one or two Wee Sings every week -- these are essentially choir rehearsals for guests, with the added adventure of never knowing how many people or how good of musicians I will have at any given rehearsal

4) Lead workshops on how to teach music / incorporate music into worships at home... or how to take Iona Community music with you.

5) Be available in the shop once a week to answer questions about Wild Goose Resources

6) Keep the music loft organized and continue to gather resources, keep all musical instruments in the loft in good working order

7) Collect and transcribe any music that people give me from other cultures (to pass along to the Resource Group)

8) Lead a Staff Choir every Saturday -- this is especially fun because (as opposed to all the rest of this) I generally know who's going to show up and what to plan for, and the staff this year are really quite good singers.

9) Be a good community member -- including doing dishes when needed, leading activities (ceilidhs, concerts, pilgrimages), chairing meals, leading meetings now and again, going to meetings, and going to at least 11 of 14 community lunches and dinners, etc.

And I probably am doing other things that I'm forgetting to list... and am probably not listing things that I'm supposed to be doing but haven't figured out yet... But that's the gist of it. =)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Winds of Change on a Small Island...

So you realize just how isolated island life can be when the power goes out...

The winds have been very strong -- 60-70 miles an hour (and fairly sustained... no wonder there are few / no trees) and they have been from the south. South winds are a problem because they mean that the ferries can't run to take people to the next island over (Mull). It also means no "post" (mail) or food deliveries... and this week it meant no guests for an extra day or two. Besides that, we were without power for 26 hours on Friday and Saturday because the wind knocked down one of the transformers on Mull.

During that time, with no ferries running, no phones working, no e-mail or skype, no mail, I wondered how people lived on an island like this in weather like this without electricity... Incidentally, by the time the power outage was over we had burnt most of our candles and no ferries also meant no candle deliveries... And then I realized that people do it / did it by living in community -- people really band together during those times because no one has any other choice.

And at the end of the power outage, when the lights came on in the middle of a candlelit dinner with friends huddled in coats against the cold, people immediately groaned in disappointment and rushed to the light switch to turn the lights back off... We were, however, quite thankful that the power outage didn't last much longer than it did.

Today the winds have changed. We now have regular ferries and more guests arriving (a tad grumpy at first but glad to be here at long last). Today's wind is from the north, which is the cold but dry wind. Perhaps tomorrow we'll get the wet east wind... It certainly is another way of living close to the land -- again, without much choice in the matter, but certainly with much blessing.

The saying "my rock of refuge, my stronghold in times of storm" has grown in meaning for me over the last couple of weeks. The temperature is not that cold -- we are supposed to have snow tomorrow, but I think this is the first time in many many years that snow has been in the forecast. Generally the temperature is in the 40s. It's the winds that make it feel cold. I haven't been knocked completely over yet, though I came close once. And when the wind is from the south, on my way to the abbey to work, I come to a place where I can't breathe when the wind is whipping around the side of the abbey. But five struggling steps later, there is no wind at all because of the shelter of the giant stone building. It's an amazing feeling. Rock of refuge, indeed.

PS -- Have you ever thought of what a strange word "outage" is? I never had until some Brits pointed it out... leave it to the Americans to make a noun out of an adverb by tacking on a suffix...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Update long in coming

Lots has happened this summer... and lots is yet to happen.

I got a job in Scotland with the Iona Community, an ecumenical Christian community focusing on teaching and living Celtic Christianity. My job is to be the musician on the island, and so to provide music for 11 worships a week, to teach the songs of the Iona Community to the people who come on pilgrimage, and to foster the pilgrims' musical talents, finding ways to use those talents in worship. I look forward to being there again (I was a housekeeper there about 4 years ago and visited again this summer), and I look forward to being paid to do music full time. I love the music of the Iona Community (it is widely known internationally as some of the best worship music in the world), so it will be an honor to teach it and to be in the middle of it. I love living in community as a lifestyle and I was wondering if I would get a chance to do it again after Gould Farm. I am also quite ready to leave Gould Farm, as I am getting slightly too big for the community and slightly tired.

However, after having gotten the job, I then applied for a visa and have not heard back from the British Embassy in NY. So I have trained my replacement in my current job (they hired her shortly after I announced I would be leaving), and my last day of work is today. I have two-ish weeks to get out of my apartment and one month before my health insurance runs out. Thankfully, I haven't sold my car yet... All of this, and I have no visa to actually go to Scotland.

So my backup plan is to go to seminary at Andover Newton Theological School in Boston for a year -- I got accepted and have been trying to delay my commitment there until as late as possible. The catch there is that classes started at the beginning of this week and the add-drop day is this coming Monday.

In the mean time, I can't really pack and store my stuff away, as I don't know where I'm going -- Scotland and Boston require entirely different sets of clothes, supplies, etc. So my apartment is in shambles at the moment. Also, Iona is trying to be patient without a musician, but they are having to stretch really far to cover it. So they are re-advertising the position and will start interviews again on Sept 23. They didn't say it, but the implication is that I have until then to hear something about my visa before they hire someone else.

So here's my plan -- I have a US Representative willing to help me who will call the Embassy on Friday for me. I plan to go sit in on classes next week and, if I don't hear about the visa (I will continue to get any Senator / Representative possible to come to my aid), I will either go to Boston to begin classes or find another job in the area (depending on financial stuff). Any of these choices seem okay to me, especially as I have a support network here and elsewhere that is not going to allow me to fall flat on my face. But I really really really still want to go to Iona... so I'm praying that all of that works out. If you have prayers to offer in that direction, please do. And if you have advice about how to deal with the British Embassy, I'm totally game for that, as well.

Also, as I am moving to who-knows-where, I hope to keep up a bit more on this blog -- hopefully twice a month or perhaps more. So keep checking it, all you who have given up on my ever writing again...

And, some of you have asked how I am going to run the marathon if I am in Scotland... well, if I don't get a visa in time, I'll try to still run the Cape Cod Marathon, but if I do get a visa, depending on when I hear about it and when I go to Scotland, I will run the Loch Ness Marathon that runs the length of Loch Ness. If that doesn't work out, I'll try to just run 26.2 on my own in solidarity with the Gould Farm marathoners. Our blog is , and from there you can donate on our firstgiving secure online donation website. So far so good on fundraising -- thank you to all who have supported our efforts already!

That's enough for now. Let me know if you have questions or wonderings or such...
Much love!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Not my pictures, but good ones nonetheless...

The following are pictures of some things I'm seeing around me here in Scotland...
be envious... be very envious. ;)

Puffins, cute puffins.

The village on Iona

The nunnery ruins

The abbey (where I'm staying and where we worship twice a day)

The inside of the abbey church

St. John's cross

The cloisters of the abbey

The island of Staffa (where you find puffins and Fingal's cave -- the Fingal's Cave of Mendelssohn's music)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Scotland, here I come!

My father's seminary class is going to the Iona Community, the intentional Christian community I worked in for a summer as a housekeeper... and Dad is paying my way to go along... Holy cow!

So off I go, back to the 3 mile by 1 mile island that is a ferry-bus-ferry transit from the mainland of Scotland; back to the island where work and worship intermingle in tangible and enriching ways; back to the island where the ancient and the current are constantly in creative dialogue, where faith is both contemplative and dynamic, practical and transcendent.

Och, aye, it will be a trip to remember. Perhaps I will love it so much again that I will simply not come home...

Monday, May 05, 2008

Running for Gould Farm!

Finally, we've gotten around to starting to be official with a new adventure... so I don't have to keep biting my tongue quite so hard. ;)

Another GFer and I are training for a marathon (all 26.2 miles of it) in Cape Cod in October. At least five other GFers are also running the marathon as a relay. As added incentive and sense of purpose, we're all raising money to support Gould Farm and to raise awareness of the farm and mental illness.

So you'll hear more about this along the line, but for now, know that, though our blog is just a baby and our fundraising hasn't quite started, we'd greatly appreciate any support you want to give us and the farm -- commenting on our blog or checking out the Gould Farm website or educating yourself and your friends about mental illness are all great. And, of course, if your support comes in the form of money or powerbars or yelling encouragement along the route, we'll be thrilled.

Here's the Gould Farm website, the Cape Cod Marathon site, and our "Running for Gould Farm!" blog (The link to our blog will also be perpetually on the sidebar, should you want to look at it again later.)

Monday, March 31, 2008

Marcel who?

So I keep hearing the name "Marcel Proust" -- twice recently in episodes of Gilmore Girls, twice in episodes of LOST, a few times in the movie Little Miss Sunshine, once this morning on NPR, and two weekends ago in the musical South Pacific -- and I'm finally curious enough to actually look it up... Does anyone know anything about Proust? Is he someone all educated people are supposed to know about or something? Here's what wikipedia has to say about him.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Running Meme

Part one -- top five reasons I run:
1) To keep in shape -- my weight doesn't always go down, but I love the way my body looks and feels when I'm doing well with running.
2) To de-stress -- nothing like pounding the pavement and running until my heart hurts and I am too exhausted to punch anything even if I still wanted to, to get stress out of my body.
3) Because it looks cool -- I have to admit that I like it when other people see me run because I feel proud of the fact that, just by running at all, I'm doing something most people don't / won't / can't do.
4) To develop discipline -- I am constantly using positive self-talk when I run, and I find that the more I practice there, the easier it gets to do in other parts of life.
5) It doesn't take a lot to run -- just shoes and either a treadmill or a road (as MummyDearest said) -- which means that, unlike other modes of exercise, I have much less excuse not to just get out there and do it.

Part two -- top five running lessons:
1) Pay attention to your body -- it's important to know what kinds of discomfort are growing edges and what kinds are warning signs.
2) Stretch even if it seems boring and takes what feels like a really long time.
3) Having concrete goals is important to me, as is having people who know of my goals and can help keep me enthused / honest about them.
4) There's a really cool website that helps figure out running routes -- so you don't have to drive all the roads in the area fifty million times to find just the right length routes. In Indiana, it was much easier... yay for roads perpendicular and exactly a mile apart.
5) Yay for iPods on long runs (as MummyDearest said) -- no explanation necessary.

I'm supposed to tap fellow bloggers to do this, too, but I don't know many bloggers who also run... so, sarahesperanza, if you still run every now and again, you're my first... and, uh, how about eruditelitite -- have your hubby post on your blog?... And anyone who reads this and wants to post on their blog, just include a link to your blog in the comments section...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Christ is risen!

He is risen, indeed!

My favorite Emily Dickinson poem was used in church this morning, and I include it here as my "thing to ponder on Easter Sunday":

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth's superb surprise;

As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.

(ps, the above is probably not the correct punctuation / capitalization... I'll get the correct version up soon)

Indeed, it is through coming round and round and round to this time of year, through the seasons and the sermons, the experiences and the exhortations, that we begin to see / experience / know Truth bit by bit. Blessings in living this Easter. Blessings in the gradual dazzling of Truth.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Enough of you have asked...


is a "hairy coo", aka a highland cow. (coo, because that's what it sounds like when a scottsperson says it)
I used to wander around Mull and Iona saying "hi, coo" and thinking myself very clever... get it? ;)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

cat breath

I had one of Gould Farm's famous feta / pesto / tomato pizza pieces last night, and it had two whole cloves of garlic on it. I'm a garlic fan, but 2 whole cloves is still a lot to consume straight up. So I picked them off and left them on a plate on (what I thought was) a non-cat-reachable place in my apartment. Later I looked and they were gone, as I had feared, into one of my cats' stomachs.

Later enough for me to forget about that, I smelled something really pretty potent. At first I was afraid it was me or something outside my window or something stuck in my wall... I kept smelling and it seemed to come and go... I soon noticed that it coincided with the appearance and disappearance of Gabby... I smelled my cat, and the mystery of which cat had eaten the garlic cloves was instantly solved.

Now the only mystery left is how to get a cat to eat a breath mint... A full twenty-four hours later, she still smells awful.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

MLK, Jr Day

All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.

Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase.

Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thank God for that man.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Fun Stuff

Notice the new links on the sidebar --

Free Rice is a website that supposedly donates 20 grains of rice to feed the hungry for every vocabulary word you get right... I mostly do it for the vocab practice. Sometimes I think most of the world's wrongs could be set aright if enough people knew enough vocabulary to express themselves and generally communicate well... But then I notice in the mirror that I look a little too Orwellian, and I back away from my soap box. Ah the life of displaced English majors.

The program tailors the difficulty of the words it gives you, based on which words you get right or wrong -- very cool. Thanks to my Latin knowledge, my highest level so far is level 43... yes, I'm bragging. Thank you, Miss Hardebeck (my Latin teacher who told us she had had half her brain taken out... true? I don't know. It seemed feasible.)

I also added the link to the seminary I took a class from last semester (Andover Newton in Boston). It's one of my top three picks of seminaries at the moment, though, I find that my ranking seems to change every year or so.

och, aye!

I miss puffins
and sea kayaking
and hairy coos
and sheep
and Dun I
and excellent mead
and duvet covers
and ceilidhs
and jetty seals
and all around good craic...

A gold star for you if you can guess what/where I'm talking about...
I had a puffin on my back once.
And the traveling bug has officially bitten me.
What's keeping me here, again?