**February 2013**

February 2013 Newsletter

Dear Family and Friends,

One of the most interesting conversations, which I had during my recent trip to Australia, took place at the “Hen Breakfast.” The Australian tradition is the gathering of the bride and her lady friends together in a way similar to the American bridal shower. I struck up a conversation with a lovely lady who worked as a “Casual Teacher” in a public school. After a few inquiries, I discovered that a Casual Teacher in Australia is the equivalent of an American “Substitute Teacher” only with three times the pay and at least three times the respect. In Upstate New York, regular substitute teachers make somewhere between eighty-five to one hundred dollars a day and true to their title are considered by their teaching peers to be instructional replacements slightly under the quality and status of the regular teachers. However in Australia, Casual Teachers are highly respected educators who are treated respectfully by both the students and the school administration.

As an educator myself, I am concerned not only with the quality of education, which our country is providing for our children but the respect for and by the educators who provide the instruction. Teachers are not only trained professionals providing high level developmentally appropriate instruction to our children, but they are also role models helping to pave the path for a future generation of adults. When I look back at the important people in my life; the ones who really made a difference in shaping who I have become; I realize that they have all been teachers in one way or another.

Recently during a piano lesson I was giving to an adult friend of mine who is a healer, I had a sudden awareness that the instructional methods, which I use in order to bring out and build from each individual’s strength are not commonly used in private music instruction or taught in music methology classes. Even in a singular subject such as music, I regularly utilize the “Multiple Intelligence Theory” developed by Harold Gardner. In this theory, people are not measured by how intelligent they are but rather by how they are intelligent. For example, a child may be a great kinesthetic learner viewing the world through movement and touch, but weak in the area of analytics. In these cases, learning how to play a musical instrument by kinesthetically memorizing patterns rather than through the traditional methods of first learning to read the music would be more appropriate. Similarly, a learner with a strength of linguistics may need to have words written into an instrumental piece in order to help him/her master the piece of music. In each of these cases, the student’s particular strength is used as the avenue to expand his or her knowledge and skill level.

Teachers do more than simply impart knowledge. They have the unusual position of helping to empower a child through mutual respect, helping to bring out his or her unique strengths, and sharing unconditional love. The reality of education in our country is that the curriculum and state requirements are so stringent that teachers often do not have as much opportunity as they need in order to implement creative lesson plans that will help to bring out each individual’s strength and potential. Programs such as art and music, which naturally help to empower children through the act of self-expression, continue to be cut from our schools and/or receive little or no funding.

One small way that I have tired to contribute to improving the educational system in our country was to establish the SAFE through the Arts program five years ago. SAFE through the Arts is a weeklong program that utilizes the creative and performing arts to educate young people on the prevention of violence while giving students specific tools to help empower themselves. It is based on the principal of teaching students to believe in their strengths and abilities. As many of you are aware, our fundraiser for the SAFE through the Arts program will be taking place this Friday. My vision and hope is that eventually all teachers will be fully respected and fairly compensated for their work, regardless of their title or position; that all teachers will be given the space and resources to teach children by building from their individual and collective strengths. And someday soon, there will be no need for violence prevention education.


Inspirational People of February – Paul Williams and Therese Mineham

The inspirational people of the month of February are Paul Williams and Therese Mineham, Margaret’s friends who were just recently married in Sydney, Australia. Margaret first met Paul in 1990 during a pilgrimage to India. The two spent years living in close proximity to one another in the San Francisco Bay area in the early 1990’s. Since, neither Margaret nor Paul have siblings of their own they formed a sisterly brotherly relationship that remains to this day. Margaret has always been inspired by Paul’s honesty and also his tenacity. Paul, an avid mountain biker, is one of the most hearty outdoors people that Margaret knows. Paul, who was originally from Santa Barbara, California had spent much time in Boulder, Colorado as well as San Francisco. He currently lives in Mariposa, California with his lovely wife Therese where he works as a homebuilder.

Paul introduced Margaret to Therese this past May when Margaret was in Mariposa as the guest musician for the annual Spring Sahavas at Meherana. The two redheaded ladies hit it off immediately. Therese, who is originally from Sydney, had lived in New York where she worked in public relations. She currently lives in the quiet foothills of the Yosemite Mountains with her husband Paul and works at the University of California as a public relations and business development manager. Margaret is not only inspired by Therese’s outgoing nature and friendly personality, but how the two work and live together as a couple; evoking a vivacious love of life and inspiring love to whomever they meet. As we approach Valentine’s Day this month, they are the epitome of the perfect couple in love.

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Inspirational Place of February-Sydney, Australia

The inspirational place of the month is Sydney, Australia where Margaret recently had the opportunity to visit for the occasion of Paul and Therese’s wedding. Sydney is a beautiful city located in the part of Australia overlooking the water. Although there are many tourist attractions in this iconic city, some of Margaret’ s favorite places that she was able to see during her recent whirlwind visit included Darling Harbor, the Rocks, Chinatown, the famous Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay. However, Margaret’s favorite spot was the Royal Botanical Gardens where the wedding took place. If you visit, be sure to spot the giant fig trees overlooking the harbor!





My Trip to Sydney, Australia – Part One (The First Three Days)

Snow began to fall in Upstate New York on Monday morning as I embarked upon my journey to Sydney, Australia where the summer sun was still shining. After three train rides, I patiently waited by the gate at JFK airport in New York City to board my flight. It was not long before I began chatting with fellow travelers and by the end of the second flight, I had made two new friends- an Australian woman who had been on holiday in the States staying with her musician boyfriend whom she had met while traveling in Israel; and a lovely young Lebanese woman who, together with her husband, was relocating from Brazil to Melbourne. After over twenty four hours of travel and a sixteen hour time change, we arrived safely in Sydney on Wednesday morning.

By some act of Grace, I bumped into Sage (my host and musical partner while in Sydney) just as she was coming into the door of the airport. She drove me back to her apartment, which was located in the section of Sydney called Five Dock. After a few hours of rest, we warmed up for our gig at the Mars Hill Cafe in Parramatta. There were several other people staying in Sage’s house including a young couple traveling from France and Sage’s two teenaged children, Pete and Phoebe, all of whom (with the exception of Pete began school the next day) were coming to hear us perform.  Two of Phoebe’s friends were coming to hear us perform also.

To my surprise and delight, Parramatta was a quaint suburb of Sydney lined with restaurants of almost every culture and cuisine including Middle Eastern, Pakistani, Greek, Thai, and Spanish. Mars Hill Cafe was a lovely performing venue and eatery located in the middle of the block of Parramatta’s main street. As part of the performance deal, Sage and I were both given complimentary meals before we performed, which we ate outside. The evening was clear and lit by the light of a gibbous moon; yet, warm.

Thursday morning, I woke up early in preparation for my friend Therese’s “Hen Walk and Breakfast”, which is similar to the American bridal shower tradition. Seven of us took a walk along the Bay in the sunshine to the restaurant where we ate our breakfast while a few others met us there. After indulging in delicious food and conversation, we walked back to our starting place. The climate and general vegetation reminded me of the Eastern part of California’s Bay Area though there were some different species of trees and birds along our walk that I did not recognize.

Sage drove me into Sydney and I had a few hours to explore the city on my own. I started out at Darling Harbor where I took a tourist train ride around the Harbor. The tour went past the shops and restaurants, the aquarium, zoo, museums and by the Chinese Gardens. I dismounted the train and walked up the hill to Chinatown through the streets of brightly colored decorations and shops, which delighted me. From there, I took a bus along George Street to Circular Quay. I walked along the harbor to the section of the city called “The Rocks” where I enjoyed a pink lemonade outside of a cafe. After walking back to the other side of the Quay, I got a bite to eat overlooking the harbor before walking up the steep steps to the iconic Sydney Opera House. A foot bridge from the Opera House brought me to the Royal Botanic Gardens where I rested for a couple of hours by the shade of three enormous fig trees overlooking the boats on the harbor. Two Ibis birds kept me company while I enjoyed the halcyon respite from the busy-ness of the city and tourists.

A ferryboat transported me over the harbor to the town of Manly where I met Sage with her car. The evening had become cooler and I had enjoyed the feeling of water on my face as the boat navigated through the windy weather while I stood on the front deck of the boat. Sage and I drove to Beacon Hill, a suburb not too far away, where some friends gathered for a special celebration. As I played flute, an owl perched on a branch outside the window behind me listened ardently.

Friday was spent almost entirely in rehearsal in preparation for Paul and Therese’s wedding. Sage and I took a bus to the Rose Garden, a section of the Botanic Gardens, for the wedding rehearsal so that we could see where we needed to be playing the music for the ceremony. The rose garden was lovely, with many varieties of blooms in contrasting shades and hues. Another lovely old fig tree stood in the center of the garden and on the other side of the green lawn was a cluster of fragrant scented gardenia bushes.


My Trip To Sydney, Australia – Part Two (Paul & Therese’s Wedding)

Rain was pouring down heavily outside our windows when we woke up on Saturday morning with no sign of letting up in time for the wedding ceremony. Sage and I boarded a cab to the Rose Garden with umbrellas in hand. We began playing out music under the pavilion while the guests arrived in the rain. Just as Therese arrived (fashionably late), the rain stopped and the ceremony began. Therese’s Auntie Deeda sang “I dreamed of you” accompanied by my flute as the glowing bride walked into the pavilion. As the newlywed couple finished stating their vows and signing their marriage certificate, the guests toasted the new bride and groom with champagne.

As part of the wedding festivities, a train tour around the Botanical Gardens had been arranged. I enjoyed seeing the brightly colored species of flowering plants and learning more about the garden’s trees, which included the same giant fig trees that provided shelter for me two days before, an exceptionally tall pine tree and the umbrella tree. The train stopped as we tried to chug up the small hill by the side of the harbor and a few of us needed to disembark until it had safely reached a plateau. After the festive train ride, a bag piper greeted us as we boarded a boat by the edge of the harbor. There we gathered for an entertaining ride along the harbor and down the Parramatta River complete with refreshments and stellar views from the deck.

We all had a chance to rest before the reception, which was held at the boat club near Therese’s parents house in Durmoyne. Sage and I had the chance to find our designated seats at our assigned table before the Bride and Groom arrived, once more to the sound of the bagpiper. We were entertained by an Australian bush band who surprised me by playing “The Ashokan Fairwell”, a melody composed by Jay Unger, a fiddle player from Upstate New York. We were served a great many courses of cuisine beginning with appetizers consisting of crackers adorned with smoked salmon and cheese. Plates of antipasto, consisting of roasted eggplant, olives, oysters, Australian prawns, and more smoked salmon came next followed by bowls of pasta (or in my case, gluten free noodles with cheese and vegetables). The main course consisted of an Australian fish served on a bed of potatoes with broccolini and salad, all of which was delectable.

After the toasts, Therese gathered all of her lady friends for support as she serenaded her husband with a special song, “You’re just too good to be true” at which point Paul’s eyes began to tear. After the cutting of the cake, I was asked to say a few words to the bride and groom as Paul’s spiritual sister. I focused on how much love they were bringing into the world through their union. Cake (chocolate and carrot) was served with hazelnut and vanilla ice cream and dancing commenced and continued until the bride and groom said their final adieux. Besides the traditional partner dances, we danced an Australian version of a reel and also formed a circle to dance the “Hokey Pokey”. One of the most memorable dances was when Therese lead us in a train around the room to the iconic Australian folk song, “Waltzing Matilda”. It was a lovely wedding filled with love and good camaraderie.