Sunday, July 18, 2010

Chautauqua Inspiration

Life Balance: a feat we try to achieve while searching to be the best that we can we, while simultaneously raising our children to do the same. This is the equilibrium in our inner life force whereby our heartbeat matches the divine force that exists all around us. When this life balance peaks, our sense of peace, joy, love and wisdom act as one with our very soul.

Chautauqua: a meeting, usually held in the summer outdoors or under a temporary tent, providing public lectures combined with entertainment such as concerts and plays.

Margaret and I hopped in the car for a lovely road-trip to Chautauqua Institution last Sunday. I often struggle to take day trips for myself, feeling selfish to not want to go wander through a car show and swap meets. Its okay to make your own way and have your own time, and maybe even necessary for self preservation, but as woman, we seldom allow this. I ponder this fact--men having no issue doing sports or guy stuff on a weekend while woman attack to do lists-- as we get off the thruway and head for the back roads. We meandered slowly up Route 20, rolling through small towns and villages at a leisurely pace. For a Mom who lives at warp speed whenever she is in the car, driving constantly at a frantic pace to pack in yet one more stop before we are done for the day, this was not easy. It took some time to wind down & enjoy the pretty drive at 35 mph, me watching the scenery with classical music on the radio & Margaret reading a book with her Ipod drumming in her head.

When we hit Rte 394 in Westfield, I always marvel at the statue of Grace Bedell & Abraham Lincoln thinking, "if she hadn't suggested that Honest Abe grow a beard to help win the presidency, would he have won? Where would our country be today if he wasn't there to see us through the Civil War & the end of slavery?" The statue reminds me that everyone has a voice that can change the world if we just let it be heard. Even great presidents should listen to the common man--do they today? Already as I drive, my brain is drifting away from the everyday and onto the complex universe we live in and the choices we make.

I am excited to visit Chautauqua and its verdant landscaping. The Victorian homes are beautiful in and of themselves but the gardens are second to none. Acres and acres of beautiful flowers, bushes and century old trees make this a treasure chest for the eyes. Porches and really open air living rooms complete with tables, wicker love-seats, rugs, floral arrangement and at least one had a fireplace built into the home! Generations of well-to do families own homes in Chautauqua but many house rentals, hotel and apartment opportunities exist.

Chautauqua is free to the public on Sundays and parking is included if you get there before 1pm, a value that would normally cost you $22. Don't be put off by the large lot spanning thousands of cars, there are many trams that scour the parking lot and take you up to the main gate. Once there, we got in line to get our tour tickets for the afternoon, a huge value for $4. The one hour ride in an air conditioned mini bus is well worth the cost. If you prefer totally free, then hop on the trams that go north & south all over Chautauqua for a spectacular view. Walk the cozy streets, enjoy the 5000 + plus pipes of the Massey organ in the outdoor amphitheatre and lunch at the 1881 Athenaeum Hotel or picnic on 1 of the 4 cozy beaches while listening to the bells in the Miller Bell Tower.

What is Chautauqua? Quite simply a place for self-improvement and renewal. Founded in 1874 by Rev. John Vincent and businessman Lewis Miller, Chautauqua today to offer lectures, discussions, forums & concerts during its 9 weeks season. It has its own orchestra, theatre, concert halls, & ballet troop and even offers Operas in English. Students of all ages can take classes or attend performances. Places of worship and art studios join lectures in government and morality. Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, George Gershwin, and William Jennings Bryant are among the many visitors. Teddy Roosevelt celebrated his presidential inauguration here while Bill Clinton practiced for his presidential debates in the off season.

I view Chautauqua as a return to a simpler time, when picnics on Sundays and chatting on porches with your neighbors was the norm. I marvel at lush vibrant, bug free atmosphere and feel inspiration in the air as I walk the grounds of some of the most brilliant minds of our time. While this was a beautiful summer treat, I anticipate a glorious view of the trees in their October splendor. Slowing down for the day and feeling grounded in history restored my balance. Try it for yourself.

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