PEEKING OUT

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March 17, 2022

Hello Dear Friends,

You’re right. It HAS been a long time since I last wrote, so forgive this long and overdue update. But I’ve been very busy…healing, transforming and beginning to create again. It’s definitely Spring in my own little backyard…

It’s been quite a year…for ALL of us! Personally, though, I have been surprisingly grateful for the forced isolation. It has given me much needed time and quiet to grow. Just like the bulbs that lay dormant until their time to push up through the soil, I've been changing under the surface too. My new favorite equation is: Isolation + Hibernation = Liberation

IMG_8875 Grief is the hardest road to travel and we all are forced to walk it in our lifetime, almost always against our will. I’m learning that if I try to avoid the painful moments, they only come back more fiercely later. There is no getting around it, only through it. And it’s true…time is a great healer. This lovely little illustration gave me hope and perspective. It’s not that the grief gets smaller…it’s that the life lived afterwards gets bigger.

And when I’m paying attention, Patrick “visits” in the most amazing ways... Just yesterday, while on my morning walk, I spotted a butterfly on the other side of the street. Spontaneously, I started singing from my song, “Can You Hear Me, Butterfly? I’m singing to you with my heart…” And to my amazement and delight, that butterfly did a complete U-turn and flew straight toward me. AT me! I got swooped before it flew off. Seriously! (Click the link for the whole song...)

Not yet convinced? Last week, I was changing the bedding, remembering how Patrick liked to help (sometimes). I was missing him a LOT in that moment. Suddenly, my clock radio turned itself on for no APPARENT reason. It was tuned to a lovely classical station that was playing very soothing music. I smiled, and walked over to the radio to turn it off. I pressed the OFF button, but nothing happened. The music continued. I pressed it a few more times. Nothing. Then I pressed every button on the clock radio, to no avail! I finally just turned the volume all the way down…and ordered a new clock radio! 


Seriously, How did that happen?? Ah, yes, Patrick was quite a trickster. In fact, I used to call him my own personal leprechaun. (That's why I'm sending this newsletter on St. Patrick's Day...☘️) 

It is said that authentically-felt grief is a complete rebuilding of the old self. I can sense I am in that transition and wonder who I will be when I come through the other side. (Of course, we don't actually EVER finish with it, be we do grow around it and through it.) As an example of this transformational process, here is a Before and After photo of Patrick's office. The first was taken the day after he died. Slowly, week by week, I made it into my yoga loft where I practice Kauit Yoga* every afternoon as part of my self-care routine.

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My daily walks, meditation practice and this yoga method have kept me sane and grounded through it all. Oh, and lest I forget, there’s The Dodo! These short videos of animal rescues, heroes, fosters and unusual pairings (think: lonely abandoned hippo and baby goat) make my day…EVERY day! They keep my heart open and continually show me all the wonderful people all over the world rescuing our four-legged, two-legged and winged friends. You can see hundreds of videos here on The Dodo Channel on YouTube.
IMG_7547 2And of course, my own sweet kitty, Toesy, is a great source of comfort and joy, even in the darkest times...

I'm happy to report that my creative impulses are beginning to peek out again too. The musical partnership with my talented producer and collaborator, Thomas Barquee, is leading us to release a new album of “the sound of us.”  I even made my way back into his studio recently to record some harmonies on a number of our songs. I’ve also been nudged from within to release some new music videos as my response to the current world situation. My dear friend and creative videographer, Robbie Adkins, does such great job translating my words into images. You can watch the newest video, “Love Is Light” here. There are now 8 music videos and you can see ALL of them here. By all means, share them with friends and family. And please subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified when a new video is available. 

Speaking of talent and creativity, one of my all-time musical heroes passed away in December. Stephen Sondheim’s kindness was legendary, and he was very influential to me as a lyricist. His passing prompted me to recall a very special experience… Click here to read My Sondeim Story

Now...step away from the computer, your tablet or your phone and go outside to enjoy some Spring! It’s time for YOU to be peeking out too…

With eternal love, Sandi

*Here is what other people say about the Kaiut Yoga Method to understand why I love it so much!

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SPECIAL DELIVERY - My Sondheim Story

 

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The King is dead. There is no reprise for Stephen Sondheim. The theater community is singing in a minor key, and all of the Broadway curtains are at half mast. And though I knew this day was coming, I dreaded it. It seems the perfect time to share my own story to keep the memory alive long after he’s gone.

First, a bit of historical context. I’ve been a songwriter since my teen years. I wrote pop songs, and when it became popular, I tried my hand at some disco songs too. But I can’t say I felt fulfilled writing lyrics like “ohh ohh, Baby, spin me round the floor…”

In 1978, my friend Linda and I met at the TKTS booth in Times Square, eager for a matinee at half price. It was always kind of exciting to stand in that line, because you never really knew what you would end up seeing that day. When we got to the front of the line, Linda suggested we see Sweeney Todd which was in previews. I’m embarrassed to say I had not yet heard of it, nor did I really know anything about Stephen Sondheim beyond West Side Story. But I trusted Linda’s judgment, and we bought our tickets and settled into our seats. I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know I was in for the ride of my life that would change me forever!

I sat transfixed. I didn’t know it was possible to write intelligent lyrics that illuminated the story in such a profound way. The song before the curtain came down on the first act was A Little Priest. My jaw dropped. I clearly remember stepping into the lobby during intermission, a little dazed and more than a little overwhelmed. I had never seen or heard anything like it.

In that moment, my songwriting life changed forever. It recharged my love for musical theater, which I had long-ago abandoned even though it had been my first love in my childhood. In fact, by the time I was 6 years old, I could sing the entire scores of Oklahoma, Carousel, The Sound of Music, Guys & Dolls, The Pajama Game, and The King & I, and even had a chance to play the lead in many of them at summer camp as I was growing up. But like stuffed animals, finger-painting and snowball fights, I put away Broadway as I started to listen to The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Cat Stevens and other singer-songwriters who began to shape my writing. Until the fateful day that Sweeney Todd, as gruesome as it was, returned me to my first love.

From there, it was like feeding a hungry Sondheim fire. I spent hours and hours at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library, watching grainy videos and pouring over the lyrics of the musicals I’d missed - Gypsy, Company, Follies, Pacific Overtures and Anyone Can Whistle. I basically went to school on his lyric writing, stoking a new fire within me.

I turned my back on my pop music career that never happened, and went full force into musical theater. I wrote a few songs in a writing workshop based on an old film, Ruggles of Redgap, and used them to audition for the new semester at the prestigious BMI Musical Theater workshop run by renowned Broadway legend, Lehman Engel. I was more excited at being accepted into the workshop than I was when I was accepted to college. I sharpened my pencils and headed into this new exciting world.

And of course, when Merrily We Roll Along prepared for its Broadway opening, I made sure to go to a preview so that I would not be influenced by what the typically harsh critics might have to say. And the truth is, the musical absolutely did not work the way it was written. But the score was brilliant.

As expected, when the show opened, the critics skewered it and Sondheim. But to me, the score sparkled like a gem, and I studied the lyrics marveling at his deftness. I was so moved by his genius that I composed a letter of appreciation. I knew his address because I had found the elegant little brass nameplate outside his townhouse on 49th Street on the East side. I used to walk down his block on my way to my job as a singing waitress on 2nd Avenue and 52nd Street, sometimes pausing to reverently touch his name by the bell, hoping somehow that I would be graced with his talent.

In the letter, I basically told him that I was a budding musical theater writer, going to school on his lyrics and that he has taught me so much about the craft of lyric writing. I gushed with appreciation, and mentioned how much I loved Merrily. (Secretly, I was trying to soothe the sting of the critics opinions.) On my way to the mailbox, letter in hand, I bumped into a neighbor. He asked what I was doing.

“I just wrote a letter to Stephen Sondheim and I’m heading to the mailbox,” I replied, waving the letter as proof.

“Cool! Did you ask him if you can be his apprentice? Sharpen his pencils?”

“No… None of that. I just told him how much I appreciate his writing. I just want to make his day.” And with that, I gave the mailbox flap an extra wiggle to make sure the letter dropped in.

A few days later, I received a response. It’s simply said, “Dear Sandi Kimmel, Thank you for your lovely letter. It made my day. Sincerely, Stephen Sondheim” I was over the moon! And I especially loved the fact that the letter had done exactly what I had intended. I went away for the weekend with a happy glow.

When I got back to my apartment building late on Sunday evening, the Super had left a note on my door to inform me that he had a package for me. I knocked, and he handed me the most beautiful floral arrangement I had ever seen. It was simple and elegant, with exotic blooms in a white ceramic globe vase. I searched the box for a card, but all I found was the address and phone number of the florist shop on East End Avenue and 51st Street.

I called the shop the next morning explaining that I had received this beautiful floral arrangement but that the card must have inadvertently gotten lost before the delivery. The florist was very nice and started rifling through his orders to find mine.

“Oh, yes. Here it is… Oh, I’m terribly sorry, but the invoice is marked Do Not Reveal Sender.”

“What? You’re kidding, right?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“Can you at least tell me the initials? I can’t think of anyone in my life who would want to send me flowers anonymously. Everyone I know would definitely want the credit…”

“I’m sorry, but doctors offices and florists uphold the same strict confidentiality. I wish I could help you, but I can’t tell you anything.”

I asked everyone I knew who might send me flowers - my brother, my father, friends who might want to surprise me - but no one claimed credit for them. In due time, the flowers died but I kept the little white vase which I still have to this day. Of course.

After I told my next-door neighbor and theater buddy, Allan, about the letter and the mystery, I let it go without knowing the identity of my mystery sender.

Allan was very involved with the theater community and invited me to a party of theater folks. He had a good friend named Steve who was a rehearsal pianist for Sondheim. When we got to the party, his friend was at the piano. 

“Tell him the story of your mystery flowers,” Allan prompted. “I know he’d find it very interesting.” 

I did. His response floored me…

“Oh, I can guarantee that was Sondheim. It sounds EXACTLY like something he would do. You know, he’s a great puzzler, and wanted it to be a game for you. Really, all he wanted to do was to make your day…the way you made his.”

And so he did.

He still does.



 


WHY MINDFULNESS MATTERS

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It was the slowest of times; it was the fastest of times. (Apologies to Dickens...) The year 2020 will go down in history as the longest year ever! Yet here we are already zooming toward Thanksgiving. I don’t know about you, but it’s a trying year to stay grateful. That’s exactly why mindfulness matters…

When I’m caught up in the dizzying news cycle, I find myself gasping for air. I tell myself that all will be well…but I don’t believe me. That is, I don’t believe me until I step off the merry-go-round into my backyard where all is indeed well. The fig tree is dropping leaves right on schedule. The fall migrant birds hop along the lawn avoiding contact with our very lazy cat. The wind chimes sound in the breeze just enough to announce their presence. The clouds float by. I can feel my breathing, right here, right now.

Mindfulness isn’t complicated. It simply means stopping for a moment and actually noticing the moment. Without judgement. Without rushing into the next moment - it’ll be here soon enough. Without the jumble of thoughts that are vying for your attention. Just here. Now.

Some years ago, before everything became digital, I would use the analogy of lifting the needle off the record for three full breaths. Even when you put the needle back down, it can’t possibly be in the same place. And neither can you. That’s really all it takes is three breaths to reset your nervous system, soothe your mind and free your heart.

Your body is the perfect reminder to come back to the moment. It's always in the present, patiently waiting for you. James Joyce wrote in Ulysses, "Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body." And don't we all? Or, as Jon Kabat-Zinn once described it, we go on vacation and send postcards that should say, "Having a wonderful time. Wish I was here..."

Mindfulness matters because YOU matter. Because life is actually happening NOW, in each moment. And if we’re always busy in our thoughts, we’ll miss it as it speeds by. 

Consider this an invitation to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n, even if it’s only for a moment… I invite you to sit back, close your eyes, feel your breathing and come back to your body by giving your mind a rest.

Click the link below to listen to Breathe Deep a song about mindfulness from my Soul Feathers album, produced by Thomas Barquee

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SUMMER STREAM

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In my mind’s eye, I’m floating down a river in a canoe, watching the world go by in a blur of summer colors. Lucky for me, my brain doesn’t know if that’s a memory or a fantasy or my present moment experience. In fact, just thinking about that is like a mini-summer vacation.

In these long days of staying-mostly-at-home-doing-mostly-nothing, it’s the perfect time to begin the process of letting go of our attachments and expectations about how it used to be. This is how it is now, and we must have signed up to be here now because...well, here we are. And humanity as a whole is being asked to grow, to stretch, to evolve our consciousness and expand our hearts. Every single one of us.

How’s it going for you? If you're anything like me, you have a running commentary humming along constantly, from first thing in the morning to the last thing before sleep. This is the perfect time to turn down the volume and tune within. Are you ready to knock softly on your inner door to see if there’s a quiet moment waiting inside? There are hundreds of ways to knock, and answering is richly rewarding.

The loudest knock is meditation, and it’s also the quietest practice. It’s the relief from the relentless noise, online and offline, inside and outside, within and without. The inhalation and the exhalation. It’s as simple as that. Breathe… (Ha! I never realized the words meditate and medicate have only one different letter!)

Fortunately and coincidentally, the technology exists to support people learning how to meditate. There are now excellent apps offering hundreds of guided meditations with world-renowned teachers and lots of types of music. Including mine.

I am super-excited to announce that 11 of my songs are now available on the awesome meditation app called Insight Timer, the #1 app for sleep, anxiety and stress. You can find my music here on the app.

There are 45,000 guided meditation and music tracks available for free! The number of offerings is truly staggering! From Learning How to Meditate to help on establishing a routine, the app also keeps track of your progress as a meditator each day. And, of course, there's a way to Rate and Comment on everything and everyone.

For example, someone from  said this after listening to Just For Today: "This was a cool, refreshing mojito for my overheated mind today. Thank you." And my favorite comment on May I? "Such a lovely song. I will sing this with my granddaughter during our meditation time together ❤. Thank you for sharing. Peace and blessings to you." There's plenty of room for many more comments...

I hope you’ll check out the app, listen to some of my music, find a nice, short meditation and I’ll meet you at the top of the river so we can float down together…-

 

* Image of Lazy Summer Stream by Dimensional Fine Artist, Patrick J. Murphy


MORE MASKED MUSINGS

98034741_10220183807518482_2015201498551549952_oAs the days and weeks continue to go by at breakneck speed and painfully slowly, I find myself paying closer attention to my thoughts - the fears and worries, as well as the wonder and awe. These are mighty powerful waves we’re all surfing together, and the sound of the surf can be deafening at times and soothing at others.

Yup. I feel all kinds of ways about where...and how...we are these days. Our little ship of humanity is being tossed about, and even though I’ve spent years developing my sea-legs, keeping my balance has become a full-time job.

First, some of the positive observations because I always like to start with good news.
Less traffic
Fewer robocalls
Bluer skies
More time to strengthen my spiritual muscles
Cooking new recipes
Finding my own natural rhythm

On the other side of the scale, I miss:
Hugging
Seeing my friends
Visiting my mom
Dining out
The beach
Hundreds of little things I took for granted

And then there is the subject of masks, fraught with political overtones and physical discomfort. I’m happy to report that I discovered, quite by accident, a neat little trick to make wearing one a mask little more pleasant. Snip a few sprigs of rosemary and tuck them into the pocket of the mask. Ahh! Personally, I love the strong scent of the rosemary, and it’s known to have properties to stimulate the brain. (Believe me, my brain welcomes the stimulation!) Further experimentation led me to lavender, jasmine and honeysuckle, all of which are better than none.

I’ve also made an odd observation when I wear my mask to do some grocery shopping and wonder if I’m the only one with this particular affliction. In my pre-mask days, I went to the store with a few items on a list and then wandered the aisles picking up other assorted items, needed or not. Entire meals evolved around an unusual item I'd found, or maybe I’d even spot something I forgot to put on the list but really needed.

Nowadays, when I get inside the store, if I don’t have everything clearly written out on a list, I’m likely to forget EVERYTHING, even if I needed it. It’s as if one of my circuits switched off as soon as I put on my mask. It's the strangest feeling. Do you notice that happening to you too? Please please please, tell me I’m not alone...

I also find myself wondering about the people who feel justified and self-righteous not wearing a mask. Are they the same people who drink and drive? Or don’t wear a seat belt? Or leave their shoes and shirt outside the restaurant that clearly states that people without them won’t be served? Why are some of the measures we take for the good of all acceptable but this one short-term measure has become a political hot potato?

This next part has nothing to do with masks, but it is relevant for these strange times. Now that I have all this TIME not seeing friends and not going shopping, I feel like I "should" be a lot more productive. Like writing a musical (finally) or writing a great book. Or clean out the closets. Or (heaven forbid!) the garage. But I can't seem to hit "kickstarter" to get started. Again, am I the only one? (Again, please tell me I'm not alone...)

So for now, day by day, I’m still walking that middle line, doing my best to not be fearful while not being stupid either. These days, I trust my own inner guidance more than I trust anything I read, watch or hear. I know that there are really only two ways to feel - one feels good and one feels bad. If it feels bad, I know it can’t be from the benevolent Universe I have come to trust. I now really understand, thanks to Deva Premal, that that the opposite of fear isn’t love, as we’ve been taught. The opposite of fear is TRUST. One day at a time. One step at a time. One mask at a time…

For some musical accompaniment for the above, here's my song One Day At A Time because the only way out is through...

The awesome illustration at the top is by my friend Judy Clement Wall, self-proclaimed Artist. Illustrator. Author. Love Warrior. You can see more of her whimsical wisdom, including FREE downloadable coloring pages to soothe during these times at https://judyclementwall.com/

 


LOOKING UP

MaxresdefaultHere we are at the end of April (I think) still trying to figure out what day it is and how to spend it. Everything is quieter, slower, fuzzier. The days of sheltering-in-place blend together like a watercolor, indistinct edges blurring form and function. The way we used to live seems like a distant memory, and we long to go to our favorite restaurant with a group of our dearest friends. Some states have eased up on restrictions while others err on the side of caution to keep their residents safe. It’s confusing and challenging and exhausting. But I believe that things are looking up... At least I am, and I am inviting you to look up too.

What I mean is that we have been asked, as a global family, to slow down, take care of ourselves and each other, and learn a new rhythm for our lives. And I can’t help but notice that there is so much good that is coming out of this period for all of us.

By now, we’ve all seen the videos of the animals taking over empty streets, and the clean water in the canals of Venice, and the comparison photographs of formerly pollution-choked cities. And we’ve seen teacher caravans waving and honking to their students with so much love. There has been an outpouring of support for healthcare workers that echoes through the streets of Manhattan every day at 7 PM. Some restaurants are providing food for people them, and organizations like World Central Kitchen are feeding thousands of meals a day to hungry Americans. Wonderful, heart–opening things are happening all over the world that is changing how we see each other, how we treat each other, and who we are as humans.

I keep getting this image that all of humanity is like a piano keyboard. We are all on different notes, and they are all needed for the symphony. Since the beginning of this pandemic, it’s as if we have all moved up a few notes, collectively, so that the music that we are is now in a higher key. Ancient teachers, sages and prophets have long described a new age for humanity, as we remember who we are and why we’re here. I always wondered how that shift would manifest. I truly believe that we are in the middle of that great shift, and that things are looking up.

That is not to say that this time is without a lot of struggle. And the unspeakable grief of all of those sudden losses. By now, everyone knows someone who has lost someone. Six degrees of separation would be a luxury that we no longer have. Add to that, the millions of people who have lost their jobs or careers and are trying to figure out how to survive, and you might be wondering how I can say things are looking up. I don’t blame you. Sometimes I wonder myself…

And then I start thinking about how this huge change has affected so many things. For example, we are no longer an instant gratification society. Now, when I order a book from Amazon, it doesn’t arrive the next day. It doesn’t even arrive the next week. I am learning patience and anticipation. When the book finally does arrive, I can hardly wait to read it.

My notion of abundance has changed too. When my neighbor's daughter started working at Costco, she kept an eye out for toilet paper and paper towels for me. I felt positively giddy when she delivered a case of each!

I am also learning that what I have is more than enough. Shopping is no longer a pastime. I don’t need new clothes because I’m not going anywhere. I realize how much of my buying habits were just that. Habits.

I feel a deepening of gratitude for my friends. I never really took them for granted, but now I so appreciate every FaceTime call, Zoom party, text or email, just to check in for a virtual hug.

And oh, I am looking up! I look up at the beautiful blue sky, empty of the white streaks from airplanes. I look up at the burgeoning leaves of the fig tree in my yard. I look up and see the spring migrants, like orioles and flycatchers, resting before nesting and raising their young. And if I’m lucky, I can watch a fledgling madly flapping its wings learning how to fly. Kind of like us, stretching new wings to learn a new way to fly without leaving home.

It’s not just the blue sky that has me mesmerized. The stars are clearer, the planets are shining and the moon is the beacon of hope in the night sky.

So I am going to keep looking up, because that’s the only way to see the silver linings in the storm clouds. I hope to see you looking up too...