Azalea Blossom March 2017 Newsletter

Happy Azaleation Day!
Falling on the same day as International Women’s Day, March 8th is Azaleation Day, the day on which at Azalea Blossom, Incorporated celebrate our unique selves. We invite you to also celebrate your beautiful uniqueness on this day and every day and fill your day with self-appreciation and love.

Generosity Campaign

Azalea Blossom has just launched a new campaign on Generosity to fundraise for the manufacturing of the sixteen puppet characters who are an integral part of the SAFE through the Arts program. These puppets teach lessons based upon the three key components while embracing diversity and we need your help to bring them to life! Donors of the SAFE through the Arts puppet project will receive a personalized thank you letter and other gifts such as t-shirts, song downloads, CDs, and an invitation to the donor party! Thank you for your part in bringing bullying prevention education into our schools. For more information about the campaign:

News from the SAFE through the Arts program

We are eagerly anticipating bringing the SAFE through the arts program back to PreK and kindergarten classrooms later this spring! Former Azalea Blossom intern Amy Gong has been hard at work on designing the student and teachers handbooks for the program.

Meet Azalea Blossom’s New Interns!

The first day for our new spring interns Natalia Lewitinn, Alyssa Budke, and Taj Marable was Friday, February 10th, 2017. We had a great experience all together in the office with Kristen and Margaret doing a few team-building activities. We discussed our roles as well as laid out some goals for the semester. These efforts will mainly be shown on social media so make sure to follow all of our Twitter and Instagram accounts. Please stay tuned and follow their journey! Read more about Natalia, Alyssa, and Taj and their accomplishments to Azalea Blossom, SAFE through the arts, and Bricks in the Wall

Bricks in the Wall Project Update

Our Bricks in the Wall Project has been making great strides to send out our message through several social media platforms! We have now created a YouTube account for Azalea Blossom, where you can find our inspirational music video. We have also created a Facebook page for Azalea Blossom, where Bricks in the Wall posts regularly. On top of those two platforms, we also have two additional specific handles for the project. Find them on Instagram, @BricksintheWallProject, and Twitter @BricksintheWallProject. We are excited to celebrate International Women’s Day and Azaleation Day both on March 8th! We celebrate this day to recognize the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Women are strong, amazing individuals who do not deserve the disrespect of domestic abuse. Bricks in the Wall is looking forward to sending out their message of awareness on a very influential day.

“Songs from SAFE through the Arts” available on CD Baby

Art is a powerful vehicle for social change and music is an especially effective tool in engaging young children in the process of learning. Because of this fact, we have recorded nine original empowering songs, which, along with the puppets skits, are now an integral part of the program. The CD of songs, “Songs from SAFE through the arts” is not only being used as a tool of positive reinforcement by the classroom teacher after conclusion of the seven-week program but is also being sold to the general public on CD Baby, Amazon, and iTunes. All proceeds from the sales of the album directly benefit the SAFE through the arts program. Thanks to Kristen Amrhein for her work overseeing the recording legalities.

Featured Volunteer of the Month

In honor of International Womens Day, the featured volunteer of the month is Azalea Blossoms founder, Margaret Jean Bernstein. Ms. Bernstein has spent literally hundreds of volunteer hours in the last few years working on getting arts based bullying prevention education into urban diversely-populated public schools. Initially, Ms. Bernstein established Azalea Blossom, Inc. as the non-profit 501c3 sister organization to her music publishing company, Growing Azalea Music in order to facilitate musical projects aimed at Social Awareness. Ms. Bernstein is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, composer, and flutist internationally known for her Socially Awakened Songs and Uplifting Instrumental compositions in addition to being a dually certified educator in New York State.

A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (BM, flute performance) and Arizona State University (MM, flute performance), Ms. Bernstein’s recording credits include four solo albums released on her Growing Azalea Music record label. She is also the songwriter for all of the songs on the “Songs from SAFE through the arts” CD. Two decades of experience as a classroom music teacher in rural and urban communities in California and New York State coupled with close encounters with domestic violence lead her to create the SAFE through the Arts bullying prevention program in 2007. A voting member of the Recording Academy, she is the founder of the Youth Sahavas, an annual retreat for teenagers held in South Carolina. To read her full bio, please visit www.

To read the blog on her adventures, please visit

Follow us on all of our new Social Media accounts

We have been working very hard to bring everything Azalea Blossom to social media. This had lead to the creation of many new accounts in addition to our old ones. On Twitter, we can be found at @azalea_blossom7, @BricksInTheWall, and @SAFEThroughArts. On Instagram, we can be found at @safethroughthearts and @bricksinthewallproject. We also have a new YouTube channel that we are very proud of! On it, you can find the music video for Bricks in the Wall and the SAFE through the Arts promotional video.

In addition to these accounts, we are also on SoundCloud!

Lastly, we can be found on Facebook, under the names of SAFE through the Arts and Azalea Blossom! Please be sure to “like” and/or follow us on any of these medias if you have an account.

Quote of the Month

“All else may fail, love never fails.” -Meher Baba.

With best wishes and gratitude,
Margaret Jean Bernstein Founder and Program Director
Azalea Blossom, Incorporated/SAFE through the Arts

Azalea Blossom, Inc. | 718-869-1934 | |

Journey to Tahiti, New Zealand and Austrialia



Sometimes life can be tough. Other times, we are given the given the opportunity to experience Paradise for the day. That is what happened to me and Julian when we spent the day in Tahiti.

As soon as we stepped off the plane, I could tell that Tahiti was a special place. We could see the mountains of the island of Mo’orea in the distance as we walked into the very small airport. A trio of native Tahitian musicians played traditional music on ukuleles while we waited to enter the airport security line. The little bit of Papeete that we saw was reminiscent of our travels in India with chickens loitering and cyclists meandering alongside the road.

Once we were at the resort, the magic began. Julian and I began our day by taking a walk around the property. I was delighted to see so many varieties of tropical flowers blooming by the side of the road including hibiscus, bogenvelia and tiare flowers, which are similar to gardenias. We also saw several tall palm trees bearing large fruit, which were most likely coconuts. While walking around the lagoon bordering the South Pacific Ocean, we saw many colorful tropical fish swimming by the purple coral plants. I recognized a few species from my years of trips to aquariums and was overjoyed to see them in their natural habitat. Even at 9 am, the heat was pounding down us, so we sat in the shade for a little while taking in the view of the panorama.

After a blissful visit to the spa and a rest in the tea room overlooking the view of Mo’orea in the background, it was time for us to eat lunch. One side of the cafe opened on to the pool deck so it gave us the feeling that we were sitting outside. Julian and I both chose the wok option. The chef concocted a delectable entree composed of the ingredients, which we selected ahead of time.

During the afternoon, we spent our time by the swimming pools. One of the pools was built adjacent to the salt-water lagoon where the fish lived. Only people with proactive foot gear and snorkels were permitted to swim in the lagoon due to the potential dangers of encountering poisonous fish disguised as rocks. There was a man-made waterfall at one end of the swimming pool. The other swimming pool had a swim-up Tiki bar in the middle of it.

The sun began setting over the South Pacific Ocean and the mountains of Mo’orea as we finished up our swim and transitioned to dinner, which we ate at the cafe. We chose traditional dishes of raw fish cooked in coconut milk and served in a coconut shell as well as a local swordfish with a Thaitian vanilla sauce. Kiwi sorbet and Tiare flower ice cream adjourned our meal. An excellent jazz band featuring a flute performed while we dined.

Moonlight on the lagoon graced our last final hours of being in Tahiti. As Tahiti is known for its black pearls and my name, Margaret, means Pearl, I was proud to purchase a pair of pearl earrings before we made our departure from this beautiful island and French Polynesia. It was a serene, blessed, beautiful day and I hope to come back soon!

Saturday, January 14th

After a five hour flight from Papeete, Tahiti to Auckland, New Zealand, I felt exhausted and discombobulated as we rode in the shuttle from the airport to our apartment. We were also experiencing a twenty-three hour time difference between the two countries. As we were not able to check into the airbnb yet, Julian and I found a cafe called the Standing Room Espresso Bar in the nearby Victoria market where we ate breakfast. Julian said his mocha was the best he had ever had! We spent the morning there until it was time to get back to our apartment only to find that the host’s daughter who had been cleaning had already left! Fortunately, a neighbor helped us call the woman and we were able to get into our quarters in time for a long afternoon nap.

When we woke up later in the afternoon, we headed towards the Viaduct Harbour in order to meet our friend, Kelly for dinner at Pescado, a fish and Tapas restaurant overlooking the water. In addition to a tasty antipasto of seafood, hazelnuts and olives, I ordered the local sea bass, which was delicious. We all walked over the foot drawbridge to the Sky Tower where Julian and I enjoyed the view of the city at dusk.

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island

Sunday, January 15th

Upon the advice of locals, Julian and I boarded a ferry from the harbour in Auckland to Waiheke Island. The ride, which was about forty minutes in length, took us past other Islands including Rangitoto, a dormant volcano. Once on the island, we took a bus to Oneroa, where we found a row of shops and restaurants by the beach. We decided to have brunch at Wai, a chic restaurant overlooking the water, and was delighted to discover that our waiter, a young man named Kit, was an aspiring professional modern dancer currently studying in Wellington. We both enjoyed our delectable meals of vanilla pancakes with strawberries and cream and home made granola with yogurt, almond milk and rhubarb. Julian also ordered a banana, nutmeg and cashew butter smoothie while I had a beetroot puree on the side. After our satisfying meal, we headed down the path to the beach, which was beautiful beyond words. There were many intriguing rock formations for Julian to photograph and climb while I enjoyed resting on the sand for a little while and listening to the waves lap on the rocks.

Before we boarded the bus back to the ferry, we ordered more smoothies. Julian’s was of the same variety while mine featured vanilla, rose and rhubarb with almond milk. I also bought some inexpensive beaded bracelets in a shop across the road. Once at the Ferry dock, we found the trail head for the path circling the permitter of the Island. We walked for a bit while we enjoyed seeing the view of the water and distance islands from the wildflower covered cliffs.

Our new friend Kelly was waiting for us at the Ferry station in Aukland when we disembarked from the boat. Our first stop was to Mount Eden, the site of a volcano located in the center of the city. We climbed the hill in what appeared to be a windstorm and peered into the large chasm made by the volcano, now covered by tall green grass. The wind determined that we would not go to the beach on the West Coast of Aukland as originally planned so instead, we headed to the grocery store in order to buy food for our dinner with friends that evening. As we headed to the place where she was housesitting for the week, I could not help but notice the beauty of the variety of shrubs, tress and planets surrounding us.

The dinner party was lively and enjoyable. An old friend, whom I had met when traveling in India in 1995, came with her two children and another friend, Kim, a Jazz trumpet player whom I had met on the same trip, also showed up. The theme was Middle Eastern fare but there was plenty of local cuisine including produce and ice cream, which made its way to the table among Rebecca’s delicious hummus and eggplant dishes. It was a treat to eat delectable wholesome food with friends while watching the late evening sun set beyond the tropical foliage and blue Pacific Ocean. Kim graciously gave us a ride back to our apartment at the end of the evening.

Monday, January 16th

Once again, our morning began with a ferry ride though this time we were headed to Rangitoto Island, the site of another volcano. There were many places along the way that showed the evidence of a previous eruption. It was a very steep climb to the top of the volcano but the views from the top made the arduous trek worthwhile. After a picnic lunch, Julian and I made our descent down the mountain though we took different trails. Julian explored lava caves on his way down while I took the shoreline path, spotting many varieties of exotic plants and birds along the way. During most of my journey, I was alone so I had the luxury of being able to stop and listen to the bird songs. At the bottom of the mountain, Julian and I both took a quick dip into the refreshing water before boarding the ferry back to Auckland. For both of us, it was the first time swimming in the South Pacific Ocean. We were both initially surprised to taste salt as the water seemed so still and more resembling a lagoon than the sea.

After a short rest at the apartment, we walked up to the Ponsonby Road where we found many interesting shops and trendy restaurants. We were both surprised to find that many of the stores catered to women only. We made a short stop a Women’s bookstore before heading to an arcade across the street containing a variety of places to eat from different cultures. We ate sushi and sashimi at the Tokyo Club and then caught the bus back to the Victoria market from which point we walked back to the apartment to finish packing for the next leg of our journey.

Tuesday, January 17th

In order to get to the Auckland International airport in time for our 6:35 am flight to Brisbane, we had to leave the apartment on Vernon Street at 3:30 am. The shuttle brought us there in plenty of time and the flight was relatively smooth and uneventful except for the fact that we were sitting next to an accompanied minor (a twelve year old boy on his way to his first Australian holiday) and that I almost left a bag behind in the overhead compartment. However, we faced a different story when we went through customs. Because I am honest and claimed that I had vegetables with me, we needed to go through the line for declaring goods. Then, ironically, I realized that I had left the veggies (red pepper slices and sugar peas) on the plane. This did not stop the security agents from sending their dog to sniff my bags for any possible plant products. When the dog stopped at my bag, all my bags were examined thoroughly only to find that I had packed a few eucalyptus leaves from our hike up the volcano in New Zealand. The leaves were thrown out, my seashells were given a proper washing and I was issued a warning. That all behind us, we were finally free to hail a cab to the Miramar Boat Cruise, which was leaving from the boardwalk behind the Brisbane State Library at 10 am. The next challenge was that the Indian cab driver really did not know where he was going. Ten minutes before the boat was scheduled to leave, we finally found the boat launch and were on board.

The view from the boat down the Brisbane River to the Lone Pine Koala Reserve was scenic and interesting, as we were educated about the various bridges and landmarks along the way. The banks were lush with greenery and some elegant homes looked out on to the river. We also passed the University of Brisbane where a few of Julian’s friends are currently studying. After an hour and a quarter of our enjoyable ride, we were finally at the Reserve. Although the Reserve could be described as a type of zoo, I had never experience anything like it in America. Julian and I first walked past the birds and the bats, although both were much larger than the American varieties. (The Australian bats are probably about five times the size as their American relatives). I was so happy to finally see a Kookaburra in person and learn that the gum tree (on which he sits in the famous song) is actually a species of Eucalyptus. 

Then Julian and I visited the Platypus, a water habituating mammal indigenous to the “land down under”. We were both fascinated by the way he moved agilely around in the water. We saw a few kolas and Julian had the opportunity to have his picture taken while holding a koala named Gumpy while I was able to pet a Koala named Ralph during feeding time. However, the highlight for me was to be able to pet the emus and Kangaroos. If you have never had the opportunity to pet an emu before, you may be surprised to discover that their feathers feel brittle and stretchy like bark and not soft as feathers usually feel. One Emu in particular was very keen on eating the kangaroos feed, which we had bought at the general store, out of the paper bag in Julian’s hand. It was also an unusual experience for me petting and feeding a bird who was almost the same size as I was. I fell completely in love with the kangaroos and could have spent the remainder of the day petting them. One kangaroo in particular contentedly let me groom her for at least half an hour while Julian’s kangaroo even rolled over while Julian pet him, as a happy dog would do. We also saw kangaroos hopping and even saw the ear of a joey in one Mama Kangaroo’s pouch as they lay sleeping. When it was time to board the boat back down the river, I felt separation pangs from my kangaroos for whom I felt a deep affection and love.

Once in Brisbane, we took a train one stop to Roma Street Station where we boarded the train to Woombye. The ride, which was about an hour an half, brought us into the more rural area of Australia’s Sunshine Coast. A woman named Diana arrived to the station shortly to pick us up and we made a quick stop at the IGA supermarket before heading to Avatar’s Abode.  I was happy that there was still some sunlight as we drove along the Meher Road as this was my first time to the Abode. Diana brought us to our cabin, the Farm House, which was located at the bottom of a steep driveway. We walked up the steep staircase into a well furnished three bedroom home with a deck looking out on to a red blooming Jacaranda Tree. I chose the bedroom with the single bed and got ready for a well deserved night of rest.

Wednesday, January 18

I was happy to visit Meher Baba’s house in the morning before heading to the bookstore, which was presumably open. However. when I got there, it turned out that it was closed. After some confusion, I was still able to purchase some books and leave off my CD’s for retailing. I briefly saw Diana and Bill Le Page who invited me into their house at the same time that a man named Ian was meeting us to take us on a tour around the property. Among other things, he showed us Francis Brabazon’s grave and the various buildings around the abode.

After a brief lunch back in our cabin, a man named Miles came to take me and Julian to the grocery store and to the beach in Maroochydore. He dropped us off in the town a few blocks from the public beach and we walked through a camp ground to reach the water. In spite of a few nips by ocean lice, I was delighted to swim among the gentle Pacific Ocean waves to the tune of two dozen or so brightly colored kite surfers. After our swim, Miles brought us to an elaborate health food store where I stocked up on supplies for the next few days.

Back at the abode, we had just enough time to freshen up before heading out along the Meher Road to the home of a woman named Gard for a drinks party. A few friends came including Miles, Ian, Leigh and Jeanette. It was lovely sitting out on the deck overlooking the banana trees in the Australian dusk. We had a tour of Mile’s paintings in his apartment downstairs from Gard before he gave us a lift back to the Farm House. Julian and I had a light supper before retiring for the night.

Thursday, January 19

Today was an essentially a resting day for me while Julian went out with his friends to jump off Gardener Falls, which were waterfalls in nearby Malany. I spent some of the day drawing the red jacaranda tree from our balcony. After practicing flute and voice and a visit to Baba’s house, I was invited by Ian for lunch at his quarters. He cooked delicious, large vegetable omelets for me and the two other volunteer workers. He also took me out to feed the birds residing on the property. He was able to feed Kookaburras and Magpie Larks by hand by tempting them with raw meat.

In the evening, Ian drove me to an Indian restaurant in the nearby town of Nambour where we were met by other friends. Julian and his friends met us there. We stopped and picked up the painter, John Perry, along the way. I was able to see some of his beautiful paintings as well as get a glimpse of his tropical garden, which included banana trees, a large mango tree, papaya trees and a small dragonfruit tree. The eleven of us at the restaurant enjoyed a festive meal of good Indian cuisine and lively conversation after which Ian drove me and Julian back home.

Friday, January 20

Another beautiful day dawned at the Abode in spite of the previous threats of rain. After breakfast and my usual practice and journal writing, I headed to Baba’s House followed by a discussion  group at the bookstore. Julian went off with his friends Torian and Jack to go surfing at Mudjimba Beach.

There were a dozen of us at the meeting, which was based around Darwin Shaw’s book, “Effort and Grace”. It was strange for me to hear Schenectady (the city where I teach) mentioned during the meeting, as Darwin had previously lived there. After the meeting, which was inspiring, a few of us made an arrangement to go swimming later in the afternoon. Julian was just returning with his friends when I got back to the Farm House and we had lunch together (salad a varieties of hummus) before my friend, Jim Frisino, picked me up for our outing to Noosa beach. Our first stop, however, was in Nambour where we picked up our new friend, Claire.

Noosa beach is a beautiful beach in an upscale resort town located next to a National Park. It was delightful to swim in clear blue water by foliage-lined cliffs with kite-surfers and stand-up paddle boaters enjoying the sea around us. (We also saw jet skiers and people playing cricket on the beach). Jim was overjoyed to treat Claire and I to ice cream at his favorite ice cream stand before we headed back. I chose passion fruit and mango sorbet, both local tropical flavors.

Julian and I had dinner together before his friends Jack, Torian, Rani and Kevin picked him up for an evening get together. Meanwhile, I headed over to the pilgrims quarters on the Abode where Rod and Ian had invited me for more ice cream. Rod scooped out heaps of it for me, which included pieces of tropical nuts and raspberries over fresh slices of mango, which he had picked. Ian walked me back to the cabin after a brief stop at Baba’s House.

Saturday, January 21

Avatar's Abode

Avatar’s Abode

In order to prepare for our departure from Avatar’s Abode, I woke up before the sun. I was able to capture the sound of the kookaburras’ singing at sunrise and to draw a picture of the purple flowering jacaranda tree before it began raining. I took a rainbow appearing in the sky as I got back to the Farm House as a good sign!

After I finished cleaning and helping Julian with the washing of the linens and towels, I walked to Baba’s house in order to have some moments to myself there before helping Marilyn with the flowers for Baba’s bed. However, when Marilyn arrived, she announced that there had been a mix-up and that the roses would not be arriving until 8:30, which is when we were scheduled to leave the Abode. So, I took this as a sign that we needed to leave earlier as Rod and Ian had suggested the night before. Fortunately, Miles was able to meet us at 8 am and take us to Caboolture as there were no trains leaving from Woombye for another hour. We passed by Glass mountains, the remnants of volcanos, along the way. Miles was great about making sure that we were on the right track platform and saw us off on our train to Eagle Junction, where Julian and I changed for the air train to Brisbane. We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare and the only challenge that we faced was that we had to pay quite a hefty fee for checking in our luggage as our bags were over the weight limit.

Thala Nature Reserve near Port Douglas, Australia

Thala Nature Reserve near Port Douglas, Australia

The flight on Tiger Air from Brisbane to Cairns was smooth and relatively uneventful. Upon arrival, we waited for about an hour to board the shuttle bus to Port Douglas. On the way, we drove through Cairns, a beautiful resort town on the ocean. I was happy to see the row of brightly colored shops and restaurants with outdoor cafes lining the street. Finally at the Thala Nature Resort in Oak Beach, just outside Port Douglas, I felt right at home. We were warmly received by a woman named Rose. A large wooden staircase brought us up to a balcony where we were served complimentary nonalcoholic beverages ( a mango-pineapple-lime blend) while looking out on breathtaking views of the South Pacific Ocean. A man named Lincoln brought us in something resembling a golf cart along a narrow winding path to our bungalow (number 58). Our bungalow, while primitive-looking on the outside, had all the amenities of home in the inside. There were two twin beds, a sitting area and a modern bathroom with both a shower and a bath tub. The balcony, which was also furnished, looked out on the jungle.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner served by a French woman named Megan on the restaurant patio, which overlooked the South Pacific Ocean. Julian ordered crispy chicken wontons on a housemate chutney of sweet and sour pumpkin and tamarind with a small Asian salad and freshly grated plantation coconut followed by a Mareeba Mango Mousse with pineapple compote, passion fruit, banana sand, blue curaçao jelly, cacao tuille, coconut sorbet and candy chile. while I ate a steamed barramundi (local Australian fish) infused with flavors from Thalia’s garden wrapped in rice paper and served with crispy plantation coconut rice, broccoli, peanuts, cholo and sweet potato and carrot puree. It was a delicious meal and we were definitely ready for bed afterwards.

Sunday, January 22

Today we embarked upon an incredible experience in the Great Barrier Reef. The shuttle bus from the Calypso Tour Company picked us up at 7:40 am to take us to the boat launch in Port Douglas where we boarded boat number ten. Julian and I were given a diving demonstration and lecture on board the ship, which was followed by a snorkeling demonstration. By this time, it was almost time to exit the ship for our first stop on the Opal Reef, which was SNO. As this was my first time snorkeling, it took me a little while to adjust to the mask and breathing. It was easier to swim by holding on to noodles. I was initially surprised to be able to swim right next to several fish including a Marry Wrasse fish named Murray who apparently lives near the boat. There was also a school of small blue fish. At one point, I had swum a bit aways from the boat with Julian and had difficulty swimming back as there was a strong current. Riley, one of the staff, came and helped my back towards the boat. She instructed me to kick more under the water.

There was only about ten minutes until the next point on the Reef, which was called One Fin. This is the point at which Julian and I were to dive under the water. I put on my gear and practiced going under for a minute or so, but I had my reservations, so Julian ended up going alone with the instructor, Jeff. He had a brilliant time and even spotted a shark in the distance while I enjoyed snorkeling through the reef with the other swimmers from the boat. There were spots while I was swimming when the ocean floor was so deep that I could not see the bottom. It gave me the feeling of being on top of a very tall building. I definitely felt more comfortable swimming directly over the coral reefs. The coral and the fish appeared to be close enough for me to touch them, which I did not do for safety reasons. (Humans can get devastating cuts by coming into contact with Coral while Coral can die by coming into contact with the sunscreen, perfume and other oils worn by humans). I was also surprised to find that the colors in the reef were not as bright as I expected although there were patches of beautiful blue and purple and the coral itself was similar to a yellow sponge in color and texture. The fish who swam around me, including several types of Parrot Fish, were equally beautiful and adorned with brighter colors. I especially enjoyed seeing black and white fish that looked like small zebras, tiny bright blue fish, and some blue and green Parrot Fish. It was absolutely mind-boggling to be able to swim through a school of jelly-fish and know that I was safe from being stung because I was wearing protective gear!

The third reef stop, which we made was called Wiki Wiki Wild West. Although I did still get out of the boat and snorkel for a bit over the reef, I did not stay out as long as I would have liked to as I was feeling a bit sea sick at that point. I enjoyed the Reef lecture, which one of the staff named Carl, gave us while back on board the boat. I learned about some of the environmental dangers to the Reef and that the proportion of algae on the Reef, which is controlled by how much sunlight is available, is directly connected to the brightness of the hues of the Coral in the Reef. I also learned that Coral is an animal and not a plant as some people believe it to be. We were also very fortunate to have the opportunity to see a school of dolphins come up to our boat on the ride back.

Once back at the Thala Nature Preserve, we took a cool refreshing swim in one of the pools, which was surrounded by tropical plants and smaller pools. Dinner was equally lovely, consisting of more local fresh fish dishes. This time I chose the special of the Pan Fried Reef fish accompanied by cucumber salad with organic yogurt dressing while Julian enjoyed a Pan- seared line- caught yellow fin tuna served rare while crusted with same seed and Japanese seven pepper, which was served with an organic saba noodle salad with wasabi cream. For dessert, Julian chose the chocolate peanut parfait with caramel sauce served with chocolate soil, candy peanuts and coconut while I selected  the tropical fruit medley with mango sorbet for dessert. I was pleased to have the opportunity to try dragon fruit for the first time. Coconut, melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew), pineapple, kiwi, apple, grapes and passionfruit were also on my plate. Once again, after our delectable dinner, we were more than ready for an early bedtime.

Monday, January 23

Today we were picked up bright and early (7:15 am ) from the hotel lobby for our tour to the Daintree Rain Forest. We were transferred to another shuttle where a man named Ben introduced himself as our tour guide for the day. The only other people on our tour was a couple from outside Brighton, England, Lorinda and John. Our first stop was to Mossman’s Gorge, which was located in the Daintree Rainforest. It was raining as we walked through the incredibly lush vegetation of palms, moss, ferns and orchids along the Mossman River, one of the few watering holes where it was actually safe to swim. One of the highlights here was hearing a Shriek Thrush sing while guarding her young ones on her nest.

Our next stop was to Cape Tribulation in the West Tropics National Landmark. We briefly stopped at Point Alexandra (named after a Queen) where we were able to see a panoramic view of the Ocean. We enjoyed walking through the paths that lead us to a pristine beach of white sand surrounded by palm trees and picturesque cliffs. It looked like a scene from a movie. It was here that we had our morning tea, which consisted of local tropical fruit and muffins. (Mine was a gluten-free chocolate variety).

The next adventure was a cruise in a small boat called a bunt along Cooper Creek, which was surrounded by Crocodile dens and mangrove trees. Although we did not actually spot a crocodile, we dd see a Banana Prawn sunning itself on a rock, which is apparently a rare sight. I enjoyed the peaceful ride thoroughly.

We were then transported by bus to “On the Turps” restaurant at the Heritage Lodge and Spa in Diwan where we had a delicious lunch of salmon as well as a salad buffet. I was pleased to witness so many varieties of beautiful tropical plants flourishing. After our meal, we had the opportunity to walk down to the river where it was safe to wade among the rocks and fish. Julian felt little fish nibbling at his feet.

Lunch was followed by a brief stop to the Daintree Ice cream shop and orchard where Julian and I were able to sample four scoops of tropical fruit flavors. Today’s flavors consisted of mango, coconut, black sapote (commonly known as “chocolate pudding fruit” and wattle seed. The ice cream was quite delicious and all of the fruit was grown right in their own orchard, which we passed. We saw mango and coconut trees and trees of fruit I had never even heard of before like jackfruit and breadfruit.

The last stop on the tour was another hiking adventure. This time we were taken to a trail in the Cow Bay area of the lower Dain Tree Rainforest. We walked along wooden planked footpaths through rich vegetation including more palm trees, very tall straight trees, beautiful orchids and a vast variety of tropical ferns including the Rebecca Tree Fern and Basket Ferns. There were vines thickly growing everywhere including rattan vines commonly used to make furniture. Ben was very knowledgable about the vast variety of plants, which grew in the rainforest and was able to point out a great many as well as explain about plants that live on rocks and epiphytes, which are plants that live on trees. We spotted a Boyd Forest Dragon on a tree, giving the resemblance of a miniature dinosaur. All in all, our day in the rainforest was a wonderful experience.

We had to wait for a small boat to pass before the small ferry boat could take us across the Daintree river on the way home. After passing fields of sugar cane, we got back to the marina in time for our complimentary “Sunset cruise”, which we enjoyed from sitting on a trampoline-like net at the front of the boat. As we sailed out of Dickson Inlet, we were served light refreshments as we enjoyed the ride. I was given special gluten-free selections, which consisted of mouth-watering Thai crab cakes and dolmas (grape leaves stuffed with rice). We enjoyed viewing the mountains in the distance as the sun rays began to dance through the clouds, although it was not a true sun set, as we are familiar with in the States.

After our cruise, we headed into town for dinner. The renowned restaurant, Salsa, was booked so we went to Seabean, a nearby Tapas restaurant where we shared four delicious small plates- Calamari with spicy pimento sauce, orange and fennel; Poached figs with cheese and taro chips; Seasonal vegetables with ricotta cheese and pistachios; and garlic prawns with bread. I had something resembling a creme brûlée in a coconut for dessert while Julian chose a chocolate and caramel concoction. We enjoyed walking past the other restaurants and boutique shops including the elegant turquoise-themed gift shop, “Pebble”, on the way to the shuttle bus stop. We were surprised when we randomly spotted Julian’s diving instructor in another shuttle while we waited. Back at the resort, we enjoyed a cool refreshing swim before heading to bed.

Tuesday, January 24

This morning, I woke up for an early morning swim followed by a bath before breakfast. I swam in the smaller pool, which was located closer to our bungalow. The pool was small but the water was refreshing and I enjoyed being surrounded by tropical plants as I swam. After a delicious buffet breakfast featuring local tropical fruits in season, which we enjoyed while looking over the South Pacific Ocean, Julian and I embarked on a nature trail hike on the Thalia Preserve property. First, we walked down the path towards the beach. We stopped at an overlook and caught our breath as we reached the beach, which looked like a postcard from a Tropical Paradise. Hammocks hung from coconut trees and a rocky cliff jetted out into the clear blue ocean. Julian climbed on the rocks to take some good pictures and then we walked along the white sand to the nature trail, which took us through a Palm Tree grove and to a swamp full of loud tree frogs. We finished off the morning adventure with a quick dip in the pools outside the restaurant. I swam in the tiny pool above the larger pool as well as with Julian in the larger pool.

A shuttle brought us along the scenic route past Oak Beach and Red Cliff Point back to the Cairns airport, where we boarded the Tiger Airline flight to Sydney. Julian and I arrived to Sydney at 6:30 PM after a three hour flight from Cairns due to a one hour time difference. We took the train to Winyard in the center of Sydney but experienced severe culture shock once we got out of the train. After being in the beautiful Rain Forest and Great Barrier Reef, we were unused to busy city traffic, tall buildings and cement sidewalks. The weather was also overcast. We were able to find an open restaurant called the Terrace next door to the apartment building where our airbnb was located. We both ordered salmon and vegetables before retiring for the evening.

Wednesday, January 25

The weather was still overcast when we arose. After a breakfast at the Terrace (I ordered a “Green Breakie” and Julian had avocado toast), Julian and I headed to the train to Circular Quay  where we walked along the wharf to the Sydney Opera House for our 10 am tour. A man named Darryl gave us an enlightening tour through the interior of the Opera House, which includes three performing venues- the Studio (for mostly cabaret-style performances); The Concert Hall (for symphony and pop headliner concerts); and the stage where the operas themselves take place. After the tour, we walked to the nearby Royal Botanical Gardens where I showed Julian a few of my favorite trees including the enormous fig tree with the long, meandering roots.

We hopped on the 12:07 Ferry headed to Parramatta, which brought us past Darling Harbour and the Olympic Village along the way. We walked through the town until I found the street where my friend Sage and I had performed at a venue called Mars Cafe a few years before. To my dismay, the venue was no longer there and most of the surrounding restaurants had also changed hands. We ate outside at the 317 Restaurant and I ordered the prawn risotto. We decided to take the train back to Sydney as it would be faster.

Back at Circular Quay, we walked through the neighborhood known as “The Rocks” and then took the train back to Winyard where we enjoyed a brief rest before heading out to China Town for dinner. Along the main street, we found a promising venue called “Old Market” and enjoyed prawn and chicken dishes respectfully after which we visited the Ugg store and Starbucks before making our way back to the apartment.

Thursday, January 26

Today being “Australia Day” (the equivalent

Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, Australia

Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, Australia

of America’s “Fourth of July”), Julian and I headed straight to Circular Quay to see the “Ferrython”, a traditional boat race, which terminates under the Harbour bridge. As it was difficult to determine when the race was actually starting (and no one whom we asked seemed to know either), we decided to walk back over to the Royal Botanical Gardens where Julian and I took the train ride tour. We stopped off at the Rose Garden so that I could show Julian the spot where Paul and Therese had had their wedding ceremony four years ago. The roses, in their many varieties and shades and hues looked as beautiful and smelled as fragrant as I remembered. After our interesting train tour through the various parts of the garden including a fern dell and a palm tree grove, Julian and I walked along the wharf where we stopped for lunch. We both had salads- mine with pomegranate and avocado and Julian’s with prawns.

After a short rest back at the apartment, we headed down to Darling Harbor at 3 PM. First, we stopped at the Queen Victoria Building, a large indoor market with a variety of shops and a beautiful, ornate ceiling resembling that of a European Opera House where Julian bought himself a pair of Australian-made boots. At the harbour, we walked across a foot bridge resembling something from Julian’s toy train set because the bridge turns when it needs to let boats come through- similar to a drawbridge. We enjoyed our walk around the Harbour and a brief visit to the peaceful Chinese Gardens before meeting our friends outside the IMAX theater. Being that it was Australia Day, there were people everywhere. People crowded on to steps and benches waiting in order to have a front seat for the fireworks. Children played on a variety of playground structures. An African band played live music on an outdoor stage.

Our friends having been found, we all walked together to the other side of the Harbor to a restaurant called Malaya, which had beautiful views of the water. There were six of us together at table 66 having arrived at 6:06 PM. We shared delicious food, great conversation, laughter and the viewing of the fireworks display over the harbor. Kevin and Emily walked us back to Kent Street where we discovered that there was a shorter, more direct walking route to the Harbor. I was determined to explore it before I left Sydney.

Friday, January 27

I woke up bright and early in order to walk to Darling Harbour before we needed to leave. By walking to the lift to Napoleon plaza and walking along the pathway, I was able to find the more direct route to Darling Harbour. I walked along the boardwalk as far as the Aquarium just as the sun was coming up on the Harbour. Anna met us at the Terrace restaurant at 8 am where we gave her the key and after breakfast, we started on our journey home via the train to the airport. We spotted the Sydney opera House from the train window and said goodbye to Australia and one of the best trips of our lives. 

Journey to PEI

Day One: 

After a slight panic over Julian’s passport and a driving detour, we boarded the plan to Philadelphia where we ate breakfast and met up with our connecting flight to Halifax, Canada. As I have experienced in other Canadian airports, the airport was clean and surrounded by handmade waterfalls. The process of going through customs was quick and soon we were at the car rental booth and on our way to PEI. Everything was going smoothly in our travels until we came to a driving detour more than half way to the Ferry. Apparently, there had been an accident, which somehow resulted in a power outage. Because of this, several roads were closed and police directed us down unfamiliar rural roads. We finally reached the Ferry around 4 PM just in time to see the 2:15 ferry pull out of the dock. The tardiness of the ferry had also been caused by the power outage. Since there was only one ferry running from Nova Scotia to PEI and it would be delayed by at least two hours, we decided to go to the closest town, Pictou, to get some dinner before boarding the ferry.

Pictou is a quaint Nova Scotia harbor town. We found a seafood restaurant across the street from the harbor. After a delicious meal of fresh lobster, corn on the cob and potatoes served by a friendly young woman named Meghan, we headed back to the Ferry. After waiting for almost another hour, we finally drove on to the boat, climbed up the stairs to the dock, and found the inside seating area. We were surrounded by Japanese tourists taking selfies and consuming refreshments.

We finally arrived on Prince Edward Island about 9 PM. Fortunately, there was still some daylight and we were able to navigate our way to Tirnanog Inn, the Bed and Breakfast accommodations in St. Peter’s Bay where we were to stay for the week. Brendan, the owner’s son, lead us to our room for the first night (The yellow room) and reviewed the house rules with us. We were quick to get into our beds for a good night’s sleep after a long, exhausting day of travel.

Day Two:screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-november-30-9-05-33-pm

We woke up in time to eat our delectable breakfast of gluten free buttermilk pancakes and fruit salad in the spacious dining room. Soon afterwards, we moved out of the “yellow room” and into the rose room where we would be staying for the remainder of the week. First, we had errands to run. Julian and I drove over to the closest town, Morel, where I scheduled massage appointments for later in the afternoon. Then we drove to Montague to find some things, which Julian needed for his stay. We also stopped in the bike shop at St. Peter’s Bay to rent bicycles for the week as the Inn was located directly across from the famous Confederation bike trail. After a much needed nap, we drove back to Morel for our respective massages. I became acquainted with a cat maned Tiger while waiting during Julian’s massage.

We ate dinner at the beautiful and elegant Inn at St. Peter’s Bay, which was across the bay from our Inn. Our server was pleasant and the view from the dining room looked out on to the well groomed gardens in back of the Inn. The food, which I ate consisting of fresh halibut, creamed parsnips and gluten free cheese cake for dessert, were all delicious. Afterwards, Julian and I walked among the lilies and other flowers outside and took a look at the gazebo. After dinner, we took a beautiful bike ride along the Confederation Trail, which bordered the Bay, as the sun was setting.

Day Three: screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-november-30-9-05-48-pm

A breakfast of baked egg, gluten free toast and muffins and fruit salad started off our day. The coincidence, which we discovered at the breakfast table, was that the new guest who had moved into the yellow room for one night, had recently visited the Meher Center in South Carolina and therefore knew some of the same people whom we knew.

Our  big adventure for the day was to venture into Charlottetown, the largest city in PEI, to see the Anne of Green Gables musical. We had a little time before the musical to stop into the gift shop and walk around a little. When I saw a homeless man on the street corner, I gave him a bag of fruit, which I had been carrying with me. After the musical, which was brilliant in every way, Julian and I had an early dinner on the Victoria Row. Julian also had some ice cream from Cows, PEI’s famous ice cream line. Back at the B and B, we e played a game of checkers before retiring for the night.

 A stroll along the Anne of Green Gables trail… screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-november-30-9-06-03-pm

Day Four:

After a delicious breakfast of gluten free Belgium waffles, Julian and I set out to Cavendish for the day. The Anne of Green Gables House and Museum was the first stop. We walked along through the “Haunted Woods” from the house to the museum, which was built on the original site of Lucy Maude Montgomery (the author of the Anne of Greene Gables series). A teacher/songwriter named Stacy told me a brief history of LM Montgomery after which I purchased some of her lesser known novels. Julian and I walked back through the fern bordered foliage to the house where I took a quick tour. Then we ventured on to the PEI Preserve company, where we ate a most delectable lunch overlooking the garden. screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-november-30-9-06-19-pm

The PEI Preserve Company is definitely one of the Island’s favorite tourist attractions. Before lunch, we were able to see a brief demonstration of the jams being made and taste samples of chutneys, salsas and jams in the gift shop. My lunch consisted of delicious gluten free bread and cod/potato cakes. After another visit to the gift shop, Julian and I walked around the grounds on the butterfly path.
On the way back to our Inn, we stopped at the toy shop down the road. The toymaker Dan (who remembered me from my last visit seventeen years ago) engaged us in long conversation and invited to see his “Fairy Garden” in the back before we left. I took another late afternoon bike ride along the Confederation trail before retiring for the night.


Day Five:

By now, it was Friday and we started out our day with gluten free apple-orange pancakes. Our adventure of the day consisted to going to the beach at Grenwhich National Park, across the bay from us. Julian and I enjoyed the beach, which was rockier than our beaches in America. I gathered shells and rocks and even took a dip in the very cold water while Julian lay out in the sun.screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-november-30-9-06-53-pm

After washing up back in our room at the B and B, we headed out back across the bay for afternoon tea at the Inn at St. Peter’s Bay. The hostess and waitress both remembered us and we both enjoyed one of the most delectable and inspiring afternoon teas I had ever eaten! We started off with (gluten free) bread (and scones) with preserves followed by tiny delicate tea sandwiches. The sandwiches, which I ate consisted of lox and cream cheese, cucumber with dill and homemade mayonnaise, and egg salad all on gluten free bread. The grand finale was the pastries! I was given a gluten free chocolate torte decorated with edible flowers and topped with ice cream while Julian enjoyed a variety of cookies and pastries.

After our tea party, we went back to Greenwhich beach where we browsed the visitor center’s hands-on exhibits and took a walk along the path by the Bay.

Later on in the evening, we ate at Rick’s Fishand Chips in St. Peter’s Bay and attended a local Caleigh, an evening of music and dance. As Julian and I did not feel quite as though we belonged, we headed back to our room at the Inn.

Day Six (Saturday):

There were quite a few French speaking guests at the Inn at the breakfast table, and so I enjoyed practicing my french while eating gluten free eggs Benedict with salmon. Julian and I ventured to Bradley beach near Cavendish as we still had time on our free beach pass. This time it was too cold for me to swim in the water but we enjoyed walking through along the shore and collecting shores. screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-november-30-9-07-00-pm

We passed a group of multi-colored horses grazing on a green pasture on the way to Dalvay by the Sea, the famous hotel, which was featured in the Anny of Green Gables film. We had a delectable lunch in the spacious dining room overlooking  the garden. The greens and seafood were all so fresh and I especially was overtaken by the gluten-free lavender creme brulee. We walked around the grounds for a little while before heading back to the Inn.

After a short rest, Julian and I departed on a longer bike ride along the  Confederation trail. We started off across the road from the Bed and Breakfast and headed towards Morel. We kept pedaling along Saint Peter’s Bay as we passed through groves of evergreens and birch trees and crossed over the three bridges. I felt a sense of accomplishment as we crossed the familiar street in Morel over to the Pharmacy. As we headed back to Saint Peter’s Bay, we were fortunate to see many animals including a pair of foxes, a pair of raccoons and a hare. I felt blessed to have seen them! The purple flowers boarding the red sand trails glimmered in the early evening sunlight.

Our dinner plans were to eat a meal while catching the show at the Trailside Music Cafe in Mount Stewart. I had remembered going there for lunch when I had been to PEI previously. As it turns out, the cafe was full so we turned back towards Morel and ate a simple dinner at the Holy Cow where there was also live entertainment in the form of a singer accompanying herself on guitar.

Day Seven (Sunday):

At breakfast of gluten-free French Toast, I met the French speaking singer who was to perform at the Festival in Charlottetown that afternoon. Julian and I had a little quiet time between breakfast and departing for Charlottetown for the French-Anglo Music festival, which Dotty, the wife of our B and B host, had organized.

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-november-30-9-07-09-pmThe sun was shining and the festival, which consisted of a day’s line-up of music on Victoria row with the local eateries offering French-themed cuisine, was a happy event. We ate our lunch at one restaurant and moved down the row for dessert while we listened to a children’s music entertainer perform the first set. The  next performer was our Inn-mate who performed soulful music in the style of jazz and pop accompanied by a pianist. We left after her first set and strolled past the houses with their brightly painted doors and flourishing flower gardens on the way to the car.

Once we got back to the Inn, we decided to take a little bicycle ride before it started to rain. This time we headed in the direction of Sourie. We rode for a few miles on flat terrain until we almost reached the interaction of the main road, at which there was a sharp dip in the path. It was also beginning to rain so we headed back to the Inn and then out to dinner.

We decided to eat dinner in Sourie, which is one of the most Eastern points of the Island, as we had not been in that direction. We found ourselves inside the dining room of a beautiful mansion located overlooking the water. The food, which began with a lobster cream cheese dip with local PEI potato chips, was delectable. We throughly savored our last dinner on the Island.

Day Eight (Monday):

I woke up early enough so that I could take a good length bicycle ride along the big path in the direction of Morel before breakfast. I covered a good bit of territory in an hour and was able to catch the beautiful sun rays rising over Saint Peter’s Bay. Our Spanish Omelettes gave us enough energy to go Kayaking in the Morel River after breakfast. We paddled for about an hour and a half, first in the direction away from the bay and then under the bridge towards it. It was very interesting to be in the water right by the path on which I had been bicycling earlier that morning as it have me a different perspective of the land.

We had arrangements to meet an old friend, Tom Rath, for lunch at Rick’s Fish and Chips after our kayak ride. We rode our bicycles from the Inn to the restaurant and enjoyed our last meal on the Island.

After we had packed up all of our belongings into the car and had a few last moments to rest on the Inn’s front porch, we set out on our way back to the ferry. The ferry was late, as usual, but eventually we boarded and enjoyed our view from the deck. Back in Nova Scotia, we headed back to Pictou for a final Maritime dinner before traveling to Halfiax. It was too late when we arrived in Halifax for us to see any of the city and we had an early flight home the next day. Still, we could not have had a better or more fulfilling time on Prince Edward Island. screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-november-30-8-57-24-pm

December Brings Meaningful Gifts

Welcome to December, the month in which gifts are often exchanged in celebration of a myriad of different festivals and holidays. I have been thinking about gifts lately as I feel I have been blessed with abundant gifts in my life. I have been blessed with the gift of friends and family (including all of my animal friends), music, writing, and a home with beautiful surroundings. If someone asked me what I would like most as a gift, I would mention three things. The three most important gifts that anyone could give me are gratitude, communication and presence.

Gratitude, to me, is the ability to express appreciation for little and big things. A smile, a word, or a letter all serve to express gratitude. I would personally choose a handwritten card of thanks sent to me in the mail any day from anything bought at the mall.

Communication in its best form is a conversation. In our sped up technology-driven world of text messages and social media, the art of conversation is often lost. An actual conversation, whether it be on the telephone or in person over a cup or tea, is to be treasured and cherished.

The full uninterrupted non-distracted presence one of the greatest gifts, which I can give to or receive from another person. When I give of myself fully without compromise, I am giving a great gift to another being. Conversely, I am always honored and humbled when another being is able to give me the gift of their full presence.

There is an additional gift, which is celebrated this month across all of the different traditions and that is light. Whether it is taking form as lights on the Christmas tree, or lighting candles on the menorah or kinara. Light has traditionally been a common theme. And what a gift light is to all of us? Imagine a world in which only darkness prevails. We can fully appreciate and be grateful for light in all its forms.

So this holiday season, I wish you the blessings of abundant gifts and the Art of being able to recognize and receive them when they are presented to us with joy, gratitude, compassion and love.

Discover the Blessings

As Thanksgiving day rapidly approaches, I turn my thoughts to all for which I am grateful. It has been a turbulent and transitional year for many people I know. The hardships, which people have faced all over the globe have been tremendous. Global warming, domestic and social violence, increase of incidents of cancer and other debilitating disease as well as terrorist attacks have been real threats, which have directly or indirectly affected all of us. Yet, no matter how challenging all of these things may be at times, there are still a great many things we can all be thankful.

I am grateful for daily reminders of the positive things in life. The apple tree in my back yard overflowing with fruit reminds me that abundance is possible. The sun rising in bright orange and scarlet hues each morning reminds us there is always hope. The long and dark nights remind me to be grateful for light and look for stars and constellations. And the leaves falling slowly to the ground in a canopy of gold reminds me change brings the possibility of new beginnings. I am thankful for the invisible bonds, which connect and tie us together even when we feel distant and disconnected from one another. I am thankful for music, which is ever flowing and present in my life. And I am profoundly grateful for all of my friends and family (including my feathered and furry friends) who grace and bless my life every day.

My hope is each of us will be able to look beyond hardships and pain this Thanksgiving and look for small blessings, abundant love and reasons to be thankful.

Inspirations of September

Inspirational Person of the Month of September:


Mr. Robert Willoughby

While I was seriously pursuing flute during my high school years, I remember hearing about Mr. Willoughby and how much of an honor it was to become one of his students at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. I was one of the fortunate ones who received that honor. For four and a half years, I had the privilege of being a part of Mr. Willoughby’s flute studio, a very elite circle within the Conservatory who received the honor of an invitation to the semi-annual “Tea at the Orphanage”. These special gatherings at the Willoughby’s home consisted of two delightful hours of eating scones, which Mrs. Willoughby baked and listening to Mr. Willoughby’s wonderful adventures of running into Oberlin students in the caves of India. We would all look forward to these gatherings every semester.

Meanwhile, away from the orphanage and back in the Conservatory, Mr. Willoughby kept us on our toes. He was sure to notice if you walked by his studio at 8:30 on the morning of a 9 am lesson because you were not allowing yourself enough time to warm up. He was the epitome of a superior teacher – always making us strive for perfection and excepting no less than excellence, while showing compassion and mercy towards his students. A compliment was really a compliment, and the greatest compliment I ever received from Mr. Willoughby was I had the potential of becoming a good teacher some day. Since my days at Oberlin, I have literally taught thousands of students in almost every capacity imaginable. I have always kept Mr. Willoughby’s wisdom and inspiration with me, while striving to teach others to embark upon excellence within themselves.

I have also been fortunate to have worked as a professional flutist since leaving Oberlin, thanks to Mr. Willoughby’s tenacity and skill at helping budding flutists reach their full potential as musicians. Without the technique as well as the discipline which I inherited from Mr. Willoughby, I could not have made two solo albums of original compositions for flute, performed with the Albany (New York) Symphony in the Shaker Opera Music Festival or play on a record produced by Rock Legend Pete Townsend (of “The Who”). I remember Mr. Willoughby telling me once if I wanted to be a professional musician, I had to be able to play at any time of day or night under any condition. I have lived up to that piece of advice and think of him fondly every time I find myself performing in the recording studio at 3 am (which occurs more often than one would think).

Mr. Willoughby’s incredible work ethic has been an inspiration for me ever since my days in the studio. I remember clearly the way he kept balance in his daily life, beginning with a swim in the Oberlin pool at the wee hours of the morning and including in his busy day of teaching and rehearsing, a mid afternoon power nap. I still take his order of not practicing on Thanksgiving but find myself practicing his “tongueless attacks” and “whistle tones” almost every other day of the year, even if it means getting up at 4 :30 am to do so. I remember Mr. Willoughby telling me once that warm-up routines were like breakfasts: You want to put a little variety into them.  My days are filled with plenty of variety, but my day is never complete without remembering the lessons I learned when I was a student of Mr. Robert Willoughby. Some people leave a mark on us that stays with us forever. Yet, others make a change in us that stays with us for a lifetime. That is the mark of a great teacher. I shall always be grateful for having had the honor and privilege of studying with such a teacher.

Inspirational Place of the Month of September:


 Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Ohio

In honor of Margaret’s son joining the freshman class there this month, Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music is the Inspirational Place of the Month. Located on the Oberlin College campus an hour from Cleveland, Ohio, the Oberlin Conservatory is one of the most prestigious (and also most beautiful!) music conservatories in the world. Oberlin College is also the first college in the United Sates to accept women into its student body.

Renowned for its diversity and commitment to excellence and higher achievements, Oberlin is also historically on the map for being an underground Railway Station during the Civil War. As her Alma Mater, Margaret has been inspired to create several of her music compositions from the hours and hours of time spent in Oberlin’s practice rooms overlooking the courtyards filled with blooming cherry trees and Azalea bushes. Margaret was also inspired by the rich cultural life and diversity of student body that Oberlin offers. For further information about Music, please visit

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

As you may be aware, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic Violence has long been an issue close to my heart. Every day I witness people who have been affected, either directly or indirectly, by Domestic Violence. Domestic Violence not only affects ones physical health, but ones emotional health and state of well being. It affects ones self-esteem, the ability to earn a living, and properly care for one’s children. Domestic violence has lead me to imagine a world with no violence – a world children can go to school every day without the threat of being bullied; A world women can live peacefully without being verbally, emotionally or physically battered. A world men are permitted to express their feelings honestly and openly in ways, which build themselves and others. This is the world, which I envision. It is upon this hope and vision, which I founded Azalea Blossom, Incorporated.

For over ten years, I have been imagining a world in which youth of all ages feel empowered knowing they each have unique gifts and talents they are able to share with the world. I have been imagining a world where all emerging adults have the skills and knowledge to take care of themselves financially and emotionally. I imagine a world in which people are able to communicate to one another to express their needs and feelings kindly and compassionately in a way that does not put blame or threat upon others.

In 2007, I founded Azalea Blossom as a not for profit 501c3 organization for the purpose of raising awareness, educating and preventing domestic violence and child abuse through the use of the creative and performing Arts. The “Bricks in the Wall” project, which brought awareness and education of domestic violence in its many forms came into fruition in March of that year when we celebrated the release of my “Bricks in the Wall” music video and CD with a series of concerts throughout New York State with my band. Women from nearby shelters and the general public attended the concerts while youth from community service groups made resource information available to all concert attendees. Two years later, I brought SAFE through the Arts programs in public middle schools throughout Upstate New York. The week-long program helped to empower middle school students in urban, suburban and rural school districts in seven different counties in Upstate New York.

Azalea Blossom is currently in the process of re-launching the SAFE through the Arts program into Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten classes throughout New York City and New York State. The changes the world has witnessed during the last few years as well as the work that Margaret has been doing in urban areas with Pre-Kindergarten students has helped us to realize the growing urgent need for all youth to receive empowerment and violence prevention education at an early age. We believe that prevention of violence on a community and world level begins with educating and empowering our children at a young age. It is imperative that children of all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds learns how to love and appreciate oneself, recognize that he/she is valuable, and learns how to peacefully communicate with other people. Our Arts based approach is the perfect vehicle for students of all ages to assimilate the skills and tools required for empowering themselves. In addition, our newly revised Bricks in the Wall Shelter Project will bring education, healing and music into women’s shelters throughout the Northeast.

To honor Domestic Violence Awareness month, please consider a gift of time or financial contribution to Azalea Blossom or another charity working on the behalf of Domestic violence prevention. And if you or someone you know is undergoing an abusive relationship-whether or not there is any physical violence- please be sure to reach out and contact one of the hotline numbers mentioned on the Azalea Blossom website for help and support.

As always, thank you for reading this letter. I hope that it finds you happy, healthy and enjoying a vibrant fall! Thank you, also, for taking time to consider the things, which I have written and do your part, even in a small way, to make the world a more peaceful, safer and more equitable place for others.

New Beginnings!

Happy September – the month and season of new beginnings!

As we begin another school year (those who celebrate Rosh Hashana, another new year according to the Hebrew calendar),  I would like to reflect on change and growth. The beginning of fall is always a poignant time in it reminds us, like the seasons, our lives are transient and changeable. With my son gone away to college for the first time, I am acutely aware of change and transitions now. Change is not always comfortable. While we adjust to different schedules, activities and people, there are also opportunities to be embraced. Too often we become accustomed to our daily routines that we forget to try something new and make new friendships. Sometimes a potential friend or a scenic trail is right in our backyard or around the corner.

I hope each of you partake in the sweetness of the new year, whether it is eating the traditional apples and honey or smelling the sweet fragrance of autumn roses.

May all of your lives be blessed and graced with new opportunities for growth.

Communication is Key

I have been thinking a lot about communication lately. My recent travels with Julian brought us into several situations in restaurants where I was served food other than what I specified. Considering that I have several dietary restrictions, this became somewhat problematic as well as frustrating for both me and Julian. The theme of communication challenges seemed prevalent during the last month, especially since technological difficulties and time differences in a long distance business transaction created added stressors to an already challenging situation. So, I started to look at many of the factors that cause riffs in communication. Certainly language barriers can pose as a challenge but there are other factors in our sped-up society that did not exist a few years ago. More and more people are multi-tasking, not focusing on what is being said or distracted by their phones. People are all too often in a hurry and do not take the time to carefully hear what is being said or take the time to clearly state what needs to be said. Also, many people are more comfortable holding conversations on social media platforms in cyber space instead of face to face.

Although there are many factors I cannot control. I can take action and control of how I am communicating with others. In the SAFE through the Arts program, we teach children clear and compassionate communication skills by helping children to listen, to use kind words when speaking, and to clearly state their needs. I know I often struggle to be understood and am often accused by my son to sound like a broken record, continually repeating the point I am trying to get across in my efforts to be understood and heard correctly.  I don’t think this is the most effective way to communicate, but I do think that communication between two people can be vastly improved by a conscientious and willingness of both parties to commit to communication. This often means putting aside blame and judgement in order to really hear someone as well as having the courage to state what one needs. Is this going to help me in my personal and professional relationships? Absolutely, but as far as the next time I find myself in a restaurant with a non-speaking waiter, I may need to find a new way to communicate. I could learn a new language or I could learn a clearer way to correspond in the language, which I speak. I am going to continue to stay committed to the later.

During this sometimes challenging and always transitional month of August, I wish you all clear communication channels and safe travels. May each of you be blessed!

With love, gratitude and best wishes always.

When One Door Closes, Another Shall Open…

Happy July! I hope you are enjoying the summer sunshine, tiger lilies and fresh raspberries. We have the lilies and berries growing wild on our farm. Their presence always signifies the beginning of my birthday month.

There are a lot of doors on our Upstate New York farm. From the outside looking in, there are many choices of which door to open – the door to the shed, the one to the chicken coop, a choice of two doors into the barn, the one to the gardening shed or either of the four doors leading into our old farmhouse. Even after you select the door into our house, there are more doors from which to choose leading to unknown corridors, rooms and staircases within the house. For example, upon traversing through the door from the driveway into the porch, one is faced with the decision of three more doors- the door into the kitchen, the door into the living room and the door into the office. Upon entering the living room, there are two more closed doors as well as an open doorway leading into the kitchen. What lies behind the closed doors? One brings you into the downstairs bathroom, which boasts two more doors-one into the laundry room and one holding a closet. Behind the other door stands a landing with one more door and a staircase. The door leads one back into the office (which in turn contains another door into the office storage area as well as the door to the porch). The staircase brings one up to the second floor, a hall containing six more doors (five into bedrooms and one to the outdoors) and yet another staircase.

Such is life after graduation. There lies many doors with many opportunities ahead. Often we do not know where one door may lead and sometimes the path may lead us back where we started (like the doors from my front porch). However, the best way to make sure we have doors to choose from is to keep our doors and options open. How do we do this? Doors and opportunities present themselves by expressing gratitude for opportunities presented to us, fostering relationships, and connections with people we meet. Also, by taking advantage of new situations, opportunities to meet new people, and engage in activities that are new to us (like trying a new sport, taking a new course, or exploring a new social situation). As the many young people in my life who are entering college in a few short weeks and their “empty-nester” parents (me included) embrace new frontiers, I wish everyone endless possibilities of open doors ahead. May we have the courage and faith to move on with our lives – whether it be a new relationship, job, baby, or a role to fulfill – with joy and confidence. May we each have the wisdom to seize the opportunities to meet new people and engage in activities and social situations, which will lead us further towards our goals and dreams.