Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Come to the Bella Madre Music festival

Bella Madre Music Fest 2014 

Bella Madre Music Fest | Music Under the Stars
August 23, 2014

Music Under the Stars – This August, the first ever Bella Madre Music Fest will come to the lawn at St. Anne Catholic Church in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, bringing live music, food, and beverages in an outdoor “Amphitheater” type setting.  Scheduled for Saturday August 23rd from 6pm – 10pm, the Bella Madre Music Fest will feature the Saturday Night Preachers as the headlining act. 
The Saturday Night Preachers are a four-year-old band whose members have made music together all their lives. Brothers Norm III (guitar, mandolin and banjo) and Jason (upright bass) have played music together since childhood along with their father Norm Jr. (guitar). Anneliese (vocals) married into the family and has certainly established herself as “one of the boys”.

All four members have grown up with a great appreciation for music and its makers, giving them a diverse portfolio to draw from. This four piece has its roots in bluegrass, folk, Americana, and country while penning their original songs that have become crowd favorites at their live performances.

The Saturday Night Preachers are also active in their community participating in several local fundraisers including Thoughts for Food, Jammin’ for the Arts and Rock the Block.
The Bella Madre Music Fest also features “home-grown” talent from St. Anne such as The Kneesels who bring their own blend of country, Americana and blues, Anna Nuzzo, a regular cantor at Mass and local Christian artist who just released her first CD, Alex and the Others who bring a new twist to the ukulele and harmonies, Raining Mile-80’s rock, New Image Chorus, all male barbershop ensemble and Richard Sosa, who will be featuring original folk, Americana and gospel hymns from his upcoming CD.

The Bella Madre Music Fest will also feature gourmet food via Mandy Muffin Tops CafĂ©, Holy Spirits Wine, domestic and microbrew beer on tap and a “Mercado” Tent with local vendors from WildTree Food and Groceries to local artists and crafters.
St. Anne Catholic Church hopes to make this a regular summer destination every year for festival goers and music enthusiasts.

Headliner: Saturday Night Preachers (Bluegrass, Country, Blues, Americana)

·       The Kneesels (Tom and Beth Kneesel, Country, Blues, Original, Folk)
·       Anna Nuzzo (Original Contemporary Christian)
·       Lauren “Yorgi” D’Angelo (Original Pop)
·       Alex and the Others (Folk/Christian)
·       Raining Mile (80’s Rock/Original)
·       Nancy Maio and Nataliya Niikonova (Classical Violin)
·       Maria Salerno (Female Vocalist)
·       Richard Sosa (Original Folk, Gospel, Alt-Country)
·       Yielding (Contemporary Worship)
·       Other artists TBA

·       General admission tickets are $10  and can be purchased at the gate or online through, starting August 6, 2014.
·       For group sales, please contact
·       Students and Senior receive a $5 discount per ticket. Must show student/senior ID at door.

For press inquiries or to request images:

Friday, June 27, 2014

Returning to the world and trying to be not OF the world

Tonight we are staying in Bowling Green, Kentucky, ready to leave Roxane in the morning and head back to Wisconsin.

I apologize for no blog post yesterday, but we were staying at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia, where Flannery O'Connor often visited on retreat.  They are not only a cloistered group of Cistercian Monks, but there is no Internet and so, we were forced to communicate the old-fashioned Christina's tiny cell, whispering and giggling like school girls.

Surely anyone passing by the room would have scolded us for breaking the mandatory "Grand Silence" after 8 pm, but we just couldn't resist. We had been so very good all day, after all.

There is much to tell about this trip, but those lessons and revelations will be saved and savored for future posts, as I am a very weary traveler tonight.

But, in case you were wondering, yes, of course I have photos of Holy Spirit Monastery.

The experience was mystical and enjoyable........I hope you enjoy these tidbits

Holy Water Font-simple and yet elegant

After the rain--can you see the church in the reflection?

Physical world on the left -spiritual world on the right. 

 There will likely be no blog tomorrow as it will be a full day of driving, but we can catch up later, you don't mind, do you?
A peek into the cloister

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Flannery & Me and Lessons of Andalusia

Despite my initial reticence and musing on how I could relate to Flannery, it seemed that within moments of stepping on the compacted red soil, it was decided for me.  Almost instantly, I could feel her spirit begin to intermingle with my own. 

As if it were too sacred to enter hastily, we waited with respect before cracking wide the front door. Instead we silently absorbed the serenity of the expansive milky porch. At least a dozen matching rocking chairs positioned in a line, as if preparing to welcome callers. 

Closing my eyes and breathing deep, I pictured Flannery's eager face, waiting for friends to call--pitchers of sweet tea on a lacy tablecloth with a platter of pound cake ready to be nibbled, in a proper southern manner, of course. 
Photo courtesy of Roxane Salonen

A significant time passed and we inhaled her home, walked in and to the left was her bedroom and writing space, nearly just as she left it 50 years ago. Her words seemed to spill through the doorway, into the hall, bedrooms and wrap around the kitchen...I could hear she and her mother Regina, chatting about this or that; and felt how she bravely suffered her disease, not letting it disrupt her craving to write. 

And for those who don't put words to paper, you might not understand, but for us, it is an intense craving. The writer just has to...write; or little by little we perish. 

The words, the stories, the curious thoughts that take flight in our minds, are the blood that sustains our hearts; and walking through Andalusia yesterday, made me realize this need more than ever. 

Dancing my fingers over the ivories of her Steinway upright, I could feel the irritation of missed chords, and the joy when songs were played correctly. 

As I think again on Andalusia, much more is bubbling beneath the surface and I know that Flannery is teaching me now, and her lessons will continue as long as my heart remains open.....I have much to learn.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Flannery & Me

In my mind, she was nearly bigger than life.

As the gravel road escorted us to Andalusia Farm, my heart pounded with hints of insignificance, and self-doubts began peppering my soul. 
photo courtesy of Roxane Salonen
Why am I here?
What do I have in common with a 39-year-old single woman who died of Lupus?
How can I relate to this woman of such deep Catholic Faith?
Where do I fit in with this literary genius, when my work is limited to much smaller venues?
I haven't even read all of her works..........

But, as the white clapboard house emerged from the dense jade thicket, my pulse slowed. I breathed easier.

Modest, I thought. 

In the distance, a worn cabin of sorts; home for the farmhands. Simple, unassuming. 

We wandered the 'Hill House' initially, inhaling generations of travail, sweat and nourishment, accompanied with the grit that comes from working the soil from dawn to dusk.  The walls decorated with the news of the day, splattered with lofty dreams of flying, modern conveniences and luxurious automobiles.

A single bulb suspended from the ceiling to light their way to the wood burning stove and  paltry refrigerator--but, it was enough. They needed little back then.

Despite the sparseness, a concert of bird songs drew us to the back porch, where we listened in silence until we nearly recognized their words. Bird Sanctuary-courtesy of Roxane Salonen

Satiated, we continued to the rubble that was once the Nail House, the Dairy Barn and milking parlor, and it was then we heard him, the same screams that annoyed Flannery's neighbors so long ago when she had approximately 50 peafowl roaming the farmland.

Manley Pointer, the resident male peacock in full plumage, "eyes" on his feathers splayed and beckoning us forward, almost challenging us to take a photo. But, he was toying with us; for as we raised our lenses toward him, clicked on our cameras, he withdrew and the eyes formed a long narrow trail behind him.

Cocking his head, he appeared to take pleasure in our frustration. Two peahens emerged from the back of the cage as if to reassure us that Manley's behavior was quite common. 

For a long while, we were mesmerized by this magnificent creature, with his iridescent sapphire head proudly tracking our movements.

Despite their noisiness, it is obvious why Flannery was smitten with her beloved peafowl, and why I am now as well. Though they serve no real purpose in this purpose driven world, they reflect a smattering of God's beauty, just for beauty's sake. 

When we are offered brief moments in our lives such as this, where our breath is taken away...even for an instant, I like to believe that it is a whisper of heaven.  Today's encounter with Manley and the two peahens encouraged me to search for similar beautiful gifts in this world.......and I am much richer for this experience.

----------to be continued

Monday, June 23, 2014

The perpetual grin of Christina Novak

It was all her idea...really. 
Somehow our writers group began discussing Flannery O'Connor last year and the discussion swirled into the planning for this trip. Christina scoured the universe to plan our drive, the locales we would stay and what we would do. 

So, after an extensive day of driving, including rush hour in Atlanta during a thunderstorm, we finally wove our way into Milledgeville, Georgia,  and that was the moment I heard a squeal from the back seat of the car as Christina feasted her eyes on Andalusia Farm. As you have probably gathered by now, or if you have forgotten, Andalusia is the home of Flannery O'Connor from 1951 to her death from Lupus in 1964. 

Our pilgrimage has pointed here from its inception...and tomorrow we will ramble through the fields she strolled, tour her home and immerse ourselves in Flannery, the author, her life and her journey with death.

For Christina, this trip is an experience she ruminated over since she first read and began to comprehend the significance imbued within Flannery's prose. Later, she felt a connection between the woman of faith, her plucky personality and her incredible wisdom. 

After unloading our belongings into the charming, turn of the century bed and breakfast, I began to witness the metamorphosis of our young tour guide. While always pleasant, she sprouted a noticeable cheshire cat grin and it became apparent that wherever she goes, or what she does--she will always have Andalusia and this intimate connection to Flannery. 

We wandered the streets of the historic town and landed at a pub for a late dinner. It was there, the wry grin was most prominent. More important than making this journey with these remarkable women was seeing the smile on Christina's face

More tomorrow--as the oldest of the pilgrims, I am weary...see y'all later

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Three Northerners Alone in the South

I apologize ahead of time for pilfering the title of today's blogpost from my friend Roxane who made this comment, but it just seemed too perfect not to steal.  You see, we lost our tour guide as Beth had to leave for a business trip to Washington, D. C., and that left the three of us alone to fend for ourselves for the remainder of the trip. Roxane is from North Dakota and Christine and I hail from Wisconsin...and not one of us is especially good at directions. I am most likely the worst.

We try and rely on our printed Mapquest maps and sketchy GPS signals to meander our way around, but even with that, we often find ourselves traveling out of the way. However, I am very grateful to Beth for guiding us to the Abbey of Gethsemani today. The abbey is a monastery in the Cistercian Order of Strict Observance, located in Trappist, KY

It seemed so appropriate that we attended Terce and Mass on the Feast of Corpus Christi as I was keenly aware of the many souls who have filled this sanctuary and these grounds for the past 150 years. Fr. Thomas Merton is buried on these grounds and his spirit was very present within my soul

 We stopped for a few moments to absorb the richness of these hallowed ground. Beth, Roxane and Christine mapped out the directions to our next destination.

Next we rumbled along winding roads to the Loretto Motherhouse where the Sisters of Loretto reside. The sisters operate a sustainable working farm, and they have lived there since 1824. The sisters rent modest cottages for individual retreats or a haven of rest.

In an instant, I felt as if years of stress rolled off my shoulders, the silence embraced me, and my heart warmed with the souls of my fellow writers.

We had a picnic lunch by Mary's pond, and aside from the many species of dragonflies---we were alone.

                                              Beth and Christina arrange our picnic lunch
            It was a joyous moment for me to witness the hushed giggling between Roxane and Christina.

I was enthralled by these beautiful creatures--there must have been six different species flying around.

Tomorrow we head south once again to Georgia.

Before I go, here are a couple more photos to enjoy

I have to say, that we live in a beautiful country, filled with an abundance of treasures. I think we often forget the richness of our own back yard. We are so blessed