Saturday, September 30, 2006

the church-ladies visit

background noise: Paperback Writer on the kitchen CD player
Friend #12 and kids sparring over dishes
Hum of the laptop

Friend #32 and I made a dinner-delivery to a new member of the church today. She underwent surgery earlier this week, and we thought she'd like a meal. Our preparation for this delivery involved getting together an hour early so so we could kayak.
Oh yeah. Kayaking in the autumn is a glorious thing. The water (the Raquette) was clear and cold, the foliage was near peak, and the company unrivaled.
But back to the meal-on-wheels. We were warned that the husband of aforementioned dinner-recipient was a bit skittish of "church people." I squirmed uncomfortably in the front seat of my PT. How can two of us show up with a casserole and not look like "church ladies"? I gave myself the once-over: messy hair, rolled up old jeans with ground-in mud at the knees, no makeup, and post-kayaking smell. (We really had gotten a workout.) By appearance alone, I could break the ladies-aid mold into a thousand pieces. Good so far.
We pulled into the gravel drive, and Mr. No-Likey-Church-Too-Much was doing yardwork. He waved. We pulled out our baskets and ambled over uncertainly. After introductions, we went inside to unload our goodies. In the driveway before departing, we were held captive by the Mister. He told us all about his family, his dreams to be a farmer, the miracle of his daughter's birth, the powerful prayer of a priest, a miraculous escape from serious injury, his experience with prayer in the deserts of Operation Desert Storm, raising homing pidgeons, his difficulty in finding work, his hopes for their new lives here, and more. It was like he had kept his story bottled up for us, knowing we would listen. We listened, all the while trying not to look too churchy.
All this time, mom and daughter peeked through the doorway and around windowpanes with concern and disbelief on their faces. #32 and I finally piled into the car with waves and farewells.
"I would really like to get to know you," Mr. Farmer-Dreamer said emphatically. And we knew that he meant the plural-you. You know: all you church people. We answered back: we would really like that. And speaking in the royal-we, meant it with all of our hearts.
For the nominal price of a casserole, anybody could reap the hope that comes with an golden conversation like that. Plus, I expect my pyrex dish to be returned.

Friday, September 29, 2006

thoughts from my portfolio

1. I tried a new pancake recipe today: Great Speckled Pancakes from the Potsdam Co-op newsletter. (The "speckles" come from the whole-wheat flour and cornmeal.) My kids gobbled them up. They were heartier than your run-of-the-mill flapjack, but we liked them. Perhaps next time, I may grate some tart apple into the batter.

2. Hubby & I hunted through a pile of old wooden doors, original to our house, that are stored in the barn. We yanked one out with intact hardware, but in dire need of a wire brush and fresh coat of paint. After a beauty treatment, it may grace our front entryway. It's worth a try, anyway. My imagination led me to wonder to which room this particular door led, and how many pairs of hands opened and closed it over the years. Doors must lead interesting lives, dontcha think?

3. We spent a few hours in the county courthouse yesterday. We pored over old maps, heaved massive record books off shelves, muffed our way through reams of scrawly, loopy handwriting, and got the county clerk excited about our history project. For me, the fun is in the detective work! It amazes me that anyone can walk in and learn stuff, but hardly anybody does. Unless they are buying or selling some property.

4. Our Baby Horsie likes to suck molasses from #1 Daughter's fingers. I think it's hilarious.

5. I bought myself a present yesterday: a way cool set of excellent fine-tip colored markers. They came in a nifty translucent box that snaps shut. (Even the sound of the snap is nifty.) I will use them to color-code my worksheets for the class I'm enrolled in : How to Study the Bible. The kids can use them for their map-work, as we are doing a lot of that this year. However, if they lose one, they owe me two bucks.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

the low-down on low-brow

Just to dispel any misconceptions of my musical taste: I am not a snob.
As in my taste for salads (see here), my leanings in music also "run the gamut". (All you entymologists: that is an inside joke.) This past week I have introduced my little darlings to the world of Peter, Paul and Mary. Also: the Fab Four.

Although during her first listen of the Beatles 27 #1 Hits, Daughter #1 announced emphatically that Yellow Submarine was (and I quote) "the cheesiest song ever", she sang it in the car all the way to Canton. I was bombarded with questions such as who played which instrument, who sang which part and whose voice was best, and what I thought of their outfits on a particular album cover. Oh dear.

While my fam was away, I played the hits of Peter, Paul and Mary over and over. Friend #12 went bonkers over Puff the Magic Dragon, which made me very happy. While continuing my "blast from the past" online, I happened upon the info of their 2006 Tour. FORTY YEARS LATER, AND THEY STILL TOUR? Well, they haven't toured continually; this year is an experiment of sorts. And they might not do it again. Ever. So I found the closest venue and promptly booked tickets as a family Christmas present. It's the only reason I've had in thirty years to visit Utica, NY.

Don't ask me why these random things drive me so. Music either hits you or it doesn't. So between Shostakovich, Paul McCartney, and Paul Yarrow, I'm getting hit from all directions.

They don't call it a hit for nothing, you know.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dmitry & I

This year is the hundreth anniversary of the birth of Dmitry Shostakovich. To commemorate this, many concert halls will be presenting his music, giving audiences a fresh opportunity to wrap their heads around it. As a lover of Shostakovich, I'll tell you: sometimes his work is a little prickly!
The best way to appreciate his music is to play it. For me, the learning always comes in the playing, especially for music that "stretches the ear". Of course, the second best way (and the way I have to appreciate his symphonies) is to listen to it. Listen, listen, and listen again. The music of Shostakovich is soaring, gut-wrenching, languid, and sorrowful. I don't think I have ever heard anything quite as mournful and poignant as a Shostakovich adagio. On the other hand, his fast movements are showcases of pointed humor and wit. And no one pulls off majestic triumph like Shostakovich, especially in his symphonies. Brass players love him for that. His musical lines grab the listener and drag him to places he might not choose to go. I know this does not sound appealing, but it is true. It is like Shostakovich is saying, "I know you don't want to see this, but you must."
Ask any classical musician about their discovery of Shostakovich. Odds are, their eyes will light up with unusual enthusiasm. Do you remember the scene in Mr. Holland's Opus in which Richard Dreyfuss tries to explain his first reaction to John Coltrane's music? Revulsion became compulsion, and compulsion became infatuation. Yes, Shostakovich has taken me to unkind, unappealing places. He has reminded me of war, artistic struggle, loss, and persecution. Much to his credit, he wrote what he saw. And that made the Russian government very, very upset.
So for all you rebels out there, you folks that peruse the banned books list, the very ones that despise yourself a favor and give Dmitry a listen. If you can allow your ears to be stretched and you can invest some time, you may find a kindred spirit.
Some things are just worth the work.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Rather Blustery Day

Hum, dum, dum, dee, dee, dum
Hum, dum, dum
Oh the wind is lashing lusterly
And the trees are thrashing thrusterly
And the leaves are rustling gusterly
So it's rather safe to say
That it seems that it may turn out to be
It feels that it will undoubteadly
Looks like a rather blustery day today
It seems that it may turn out to be
Feels that it will undoubteadly
Looks like a rather blustery day today

I give credit to A.A. Milne for the above.

Despite a ferocious chest cold, I attempted to fiddle around in the front yard. Not a good idea. As soon as I bent down to weed, my nose needed tending. A better idea: bundle up in the family-room recliner with schoolbooks, humidifier and kleenex by my side. The trees can thrash thrusterly and the leaves rustle gusterly while I lounge indoors.

Welcome, Autumn.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

taking stock

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

(Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)

The worship team really rocked today. I love when worship rolls on and on; no time-constraint in sight. Let's stop the world and survey the wondrous cross, folks.

During my first college-summer, I worked for my uncle. He was civil engineer, a surveyor. We did our share of field work together.
"Hold this line." he would instruct. "Now take this tape up to the far corner."
"Through the pricker-bushes?" I politely queried, hoping I misheard.
We looked things over at all angles. We measured width and depth, tramping through swamps and brush with our equipment. Tree stumps, fence posts, and iron stakes were uncovered and inspected. Maps were unrolled and consulted. Old-fashioned penmanship was deciphered. We returned to the drawing board (literally) and made adjustments based on our findings.

When I take time to survey Christ's work on the cross, my life gets adjusted accordingly. My personal paperwork gets unfurled, and what doesn't match up gets fixed. I can attest to this: when I hurry through worship, when I don't take time to be in awe, things quickly get out of whack.
Time spent while prostrate in wonder is hard to come by, but sorely needed. And after pouring the sand of contempt on the flickering fire of my pride, I arise renewed.

Thank You for the cross, my Friend.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

cookie day

My mom and I share recipes. A lot. We slice up magazines, thumb through church cookbooks, and swear by word-of-mouth. Recently, she said, "You've got to make Aunt Fran's oatmeal cookies. They are the best." So I did, and she was right. The secret? Soaking the raisins in the beaten egg. Don't skip that part!

Aunt Fran's Oatmeal Cookies
("The Best")

3 eggs, well beaten
1 cup raisins
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsps baking soda
2 cups oatmeal (substitute 1/2 cup wheat germ, if you like)
3/4 cup pecans

Combine eggs, raisins, and vanilla. Let stand for one hour, covered with plastic wrap. Cream together butter and sugars. Add flour, salt, cinnamon, and soda to sugar mixture. Mix well. Blend in egg-raisin mixture, oatmeal, and chopped nuts. Dough will be stiff. Drops by heaping tsps. onto ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.
Makes 6 dozen.

As always, I reduced the sugars and halved the salt. I skipped the nuts, too (because I didn't know my audience) but the cookies were still delicious.

Today is a rainy Saturday, the first day of Autumn, and a great time to make cookies. Let me know how they turn out.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

birth announcement

Baby Horsie! It's a BOY, not a GIRL!

name: Bree (short for Bree-Hee Hinny-Brinny Hooey-Hah of Narnia fame)
time of arrival: sometime this morning
color: buckskin with dark mane/tail
mother : Willow
proud owner: #1 Daughter

What a wonderful Welcome Home present for our Dominican missionaries!
(click on photos for more pics....)

strangers in the night

The wayfarers straggled in at exactly three o'clock this morning, offering mumbled greetings and heavy hugs. As for me, I nestled back under my toasty covers with the reassurance that they are home safely. Surely, they have brought home treasures from abroad: memories, shared experiences, Dominican dirt (in the weave of their work-clothes ), digital photos, and souvenirs. As soon as they awaken, they will interrupt each other in the sharing. I love the aftermath of trips!

The other thing that long trips leave in their wake is laundry. Throughout the day, the churn of the washing machine will be music to my ears. The lyric?

"Welcome Home, my Favorite Family."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pie: the New Jihad

The headlines are fraught with strife.

I listened to the speeches yesterday, broadcast live from the U.N., which outlined varying avenues for peace in the Middle East. My hopes rose with our president's rhetoric, then crashed after our own (liberal) pundits skewered his words. Hours later from the same podium, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fiercely criticized U.S. and U.K. policies. He vowed that his country would continue to develop their nuclear program, despite international outcry. Along with the rest of America, I wondered if President Bush and Ahmadinejad (whose name we Americans had better learn to pronounce) would bump into each other's entourage yesterday. To prevent this awkward encounter, do they send scouts up ahead?
"It's all clear, Chief. No sign of him. C'mon, c'mon, let's boogie." all the president's men say as they hold the elevator doors open. And two flights down, one floor over, Iranian security dodges three suspicious men in Western garb by dipping into a stairwell. Turns out the three were waitstaff.
This is all conjecture. No one has time to dream this stuff up unless their family is in a foreign country on a missions trip.

Really what I mean to say is this: as a housewife, Christian, and concerned citizen, I have a solution to all this international hubbub. It is something that lies in my hands, something that I have the power to contribute, and a very plausible, reasonable catalyst for change.

That's right, pie. I have been testing this secret weapon for two decades, and it has never failed me yet. In desperate situations, ones in which people should've been loving each other and getting along (but weren't), I prayed while peeling apples. Bowls and bowls of 'em, and hand-picked, too. Total involvement is key. Stealthily, I delivered warm, syrupy pies to doorsteps.
Pastry-bombs, if you will. No note, and only in aluminum pie-tins, please. The homey smell would waft under doorways and sift through living room windows.
"Someone smell pie?" a gruff, uncompromising voice would inquire.
"Pie?" (another tense voice) "I know I didn't make any pie. Don't be ridicul-..."
And then they would find it. And eat it. And smile while scratching their bellies. A conciliatory phonecall is only a small step away from such contentment.

Only good things can happen after eating pie. And that's why I got to thinking: since all these world leaders and shapers-of-our-future are assembled in NYC only hours south of me, what's to prevent me from sending over some pie? George Bush's would be a berry pie: three kinds (blueberry, raspberry and blackberry). Very patriotic and full of interesting content. Perhaps Mr. Ahmadinejad would be bowled over by chocolate cream. Its smooth texture would soothe his temper, but the caffiene-laden chocolate would provide balance. With an ounce of discernment, I could personalize the pie to the situation and strategically change the world.

Late this afternoon, my dear fam will gather their luggage and head into NYC traffic. Of all people, they understand the power of pie. Maybe they wouldn't mind stopping by the U.N. and picking up a few orders. In the meantime, accompanied by fervent prayer, I'll pull out some tins and keep rollin' out the dough.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

scattered notes

1. I love getting phone calls from another country. It takes a herculean mental leap to imagine the miles that lie in between our phone-banter. My family is in the land of white beach, palm tree, mango, and diesel fume. (They are in the city, presently!) I am in the land of chilly lake water, grape-laden vine, tomato, and horse manure. But a phone-call dispenses with all that.

2. What we choose to do in our spare time says a lot about ourselves. This past week, I busied myself with blogging, canning, reading, landscaping, walking, playing piano, kayaking & canoeing, and long phone-calls, almost all of which are solo activities. And there you have it.

3. It is a constant adventure to serve God. Last summer, I went to Nepal and had the time of my life. This spring, I travelled to sunny Spain. This fall, my family went to the Dominican Republic sans mom. But it is also an adventure to stay home, if that's what is required.

4. Landscaping is an expensive venture. My hubby generously gave me a large chunk of change to make things happen around here, and he was correct about the amount. At this point, grass seems like the better idea. I'll be hunting for free stuff to fill in the empty gaps. If I pull in your driveway with a shovel and a gleam in my eye, you'll know why.

5. Prayer works. And that's all I'm gonna say about that.
Today, anyway.)

Monday, September 18, 2006

nudges, lightbulbs, and late-night conversations

Sometimes the most memorable events are the short-notice ones.

During yesterday's service, a light bulb snapped on over my head: invite Eugene & Joy over after their evening meeting for a traditional Spanish meal of tapas. In Spain, dinner is served around ten p.m.. Varying small dishes are offered consisting of meat, cheese, olives, assorted condiments, dainty casseroles, and the ever-present spanish tortilla, which is not a "tortilla" at all. The tortilla espana is a potato and egg frittata made with olive oil. I hadn't plied my culinary trade in over a week (my dear fam being in the D.R....) and I was itching to arrange a creative repast.
Invitations were thrown out, and RSVP's rolled in immediately. After the church BBQ and a languid canoe-ride on the Grasse River, I settled into my favorite kitchen to play with food. A few other couples, some newly-acquainted with the Grecos, were able to join us for an evening of food, fellowship, and Kingdom-minded business.
Everyone else reluctantly departed by 11:30, but Eugene & Joy settled back on the couch until 1 a.m. (it was easier to burn the midnight oil when we were all in college). After promises were sealed to visit them in Spain, they ventured out into the crisp evening air. I sighed as I pressed my hands to the windows in farewell, and sighed again as I tended the guttering candles on the piano and tables. The wisps of waxy smoke curled lazily into the air and trailed me up the dark stairs to bed, leaving me already wistful for such kindred-spirits.

Note this: another "Going with my Gut" Experiment is a success.
Back to the lab. I'll continue to post ongoing results.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Four Old Friends & a Poem

Visits and connections with numerous "old" friends are converging this weeked. I am awaiting the arrival of Friend #19. We first met in the halls of music college, mainly because she knocked on my practice room to inform me I had to vacate. My time was up, and she was just letting me know. Things only got better from our first introduction, and we have shared a lot of life's experiences together: small group meetings, classical performances, joining a new church, first apartments, meeting our spouses, wedding ceremonies, taking turns leading worship, having children, and much more.
She is a ray of sunshine and a friend in all kinds of weather. (Also, she is queen of puns. The best part: she out-laughs everyone at her own witty jokes. )

Friend #19 is driving over 4 hours to visit me, that's true. But she is also coming to see a married couple we both know from college. They ( Eugene & Joy) are guest speakers at church this Sunday, and a BBQ will be held in their honor after the service. It is hard to keep track of Eugene & Joy, but I heard they are re-locating to Spain soon. So we will doubly enjoy their visit, as who knows when our paths might cross again?

Another "old" friend (namely #22) emailed me to say how much she enjoyed my post about freedom. She shared this original poem with me, inspired by her Bible-study on freedom and a visit to the Korean War Memorial. And with her permission, I now share it with y'all. Enjoy.

Know Freedom

In the middle of the crowd
With people bustling about
The statued men, frozen in time, stand.
Their bodies burdened with the weapons of war,
Their faces carrying the emotions of the day:
fear, determination, uncertainty, exhaustion.
And after the men, a wall,
With the simple words etched,
"Freedom is not free."
To remind us of the great price so many have paid
That we could know freedom.

And I thought of my friends,
And the struggle we are are in,
Battling the lies with God's truth.
Hearts burdened with the scars of the past,
Faces carrying the emotions of the battle:
fear, determination, uncertainty, exhaustion.
Identifying the lies that hold us captive,
Writing the truth on the wall of our minds.
Discovering the hard work that it takes
So that we can know freedom.

A new picture came to mind
In the middle of another crowd
With people bustling about
The Son of Man hung -the payment for all time.
His heart burdened with the sin of the world,
His body bearing the agony of the torture.
And His life and His death
Etched the truth on my heart.
Not only that He speaks truth,
But that He is Truth,
The Truth has set me free.
For now I know freedom.

-Laurie Hartman

Friday, September 15, 2006

re-beginning the beguine

While at the bank the other day, I spotted a lanky, amiable man striding up the sidewalk. I recognized my piano-tuner.
"Hey, Mister," I chimed. "My piano needs a tuning."
We visited for a bit, chatting up the weather. He jotted my number on a scap of paper.
"I'll call you," he promised. "I'm coming out your way very soon."

Maybe if my Baby gets a spit and shine, I'll be more likely to polish her ivories. She is a loyal instrument who has seen me through thick and thin. The first few years she was mine, she really earned her keep. I cranked out thirty piano lessons a week then, opening my front door to assorted students and their families. I use the term crank purposefully, as teaching was never my love. Oh, the kids were sweet and I enjoyed getting to know them. But I rejoiced at cancellations, and filled the spare half-hours with the work of my own fingers.
After we moved thirty miles away, I folded shop and concentrated on raising my own little students ( #1 Son and #1 Daughter). When I did warm the bench, the selections were Sunday School songs and nursery rhymes. Talk about being overqualified.
A few years passed before I felt that ache to really play. It hit me while attending a chamber music concert. At the urging of my Hubby, I wrestled myself away from household drudgery and ventured through the snow to gather some sanity for myself. I climbed the creaky stairs at the Union College Chapel and staked out my claim in the curve of a wooden pew. Melting snow puddled at my feet while strains of Beethoven worked magic in my heart.
"I must play." I breathed, through tears sprung out of nowhere. So the next afternoon, I began. Or rather, re-began.

These things take time, I tell you.

My piano was patient with me though, and for that I thank her. Soon, my children were lullabyed with Bach every evening. They dozed off upstairs while mom untangled three-part inventions in the living room. On the rare night I was absent at bedtime, my mother-in-law was obliged to play a tape. It was Yo-Yo Ma playing unaccompanied Bach (to my kids, a cheap substitute for a live concert). Oh, I had fans.
I made a few strategic phone calls. "I'm playing again." I announced hopefully. "Call me if you need me. Even if it's short-notice."

The constraints of time leave me no choice but to fast-forward here. I started this post to say that I have recently neglected my shiny black friend. Even this morning, the computer keyboard won out over the musical keyboard. But I intend to make up lost time, starting right now.

Far be it from me to leave important things un-begun.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

shoutin' about it

Lately, the concept of freedom has been on my mind.

-During our D.C. visit, we came across a granite wall anchoring the Korean War Memorial. Carved deeply into the stone were the words, "Freedom is Not Free". Deeply submerged into my conscience, this truth lept up to my lips: "Amen," I exclaimed. "Somebody paid the price so we could enjoy the spoils."

-Toni Morrison said,"The function of freedom is to free someone else." I suppose a few sermons could be given on the price of freedom, the right of freedom, or the fruits of freedom. But what about the function of freedom? When freedom functions, amazing things happen.
Observing anyone fighting for someone else's freedom stops me in my tracks. There, before my eyes, is the outworking of a gift realized. Why else would Harriet Tubman, former slave, return to the Deep South over thirty times to lead others northward? A supernatural instinct compelled her. By putting "feet to her faith", she demonstrated the function of freedom. I am privileged to know people who are shining lights of this concept, and they inspire me to keep fighting the good fight.

-My most-beloved teacher of freedom is Jesus.
"To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, 'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'
They answered him, 'We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?'
Jesus replied, 'I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'"

Rich words, and a balm for my soul. I would much rather be a son than slave. Belonging to the house forever is the laurel wreath that Jesus won for us. And the freedom He bestows isn't any run-of-the-mill stuff or second-class goods. When I read "free indeed", something stirs in my bones that makes me want to shout. It makes me want to tell somebody!

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

relishing the quiet

Many are wondering how I am filling my week, seeing that the fam is away.

I brought warm scones to an ailing (yet feeling-better-every-day) friend. Her kids dove hungrily in to the basket, but I made sure mom reserved her fair share. On my way home from that pleasant stop, I visited Martin's Farm for a half-bushel of bell peppers. Never one to resist a bargain, I rescued a large bucket of sweet onions from becoming compost. The sign taped to the bucket said,
"Sweet Onions. Seconds. Use quickly before they go bad. $3."

Three dollars? That bucket could furnish enough gifts of onion relish for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Into the trunk it went. With it came the creeping feeeling that I would be spending a lot of time in the kitchen. It's really okay. You see, I like my kitchen.

Today I canned tomato chutney. Tomorrow I will make vinegar peppers; a family favorite. Also, I will try out a few sweet onion relish recipes. "Alone-time" is great for these doings, as interruptions don't bode well with batches of boiling water and bubbling vegetables. But just to remain balanced, I also did these things:

-visited the hardware store, post office, and bank
-stopped to visit my dear mom-in-law
-had pizza for dinner with Friend #12
-watched the news
-chatted long-distance with a friend
-read the Bible

All in one day, folks. All in one fine day.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

mail delivery

A surprise was lurking in the woodshed for many years. Resting patiently on a wooden beam, awaiting discovery, was a stack of letters dated 1918-1923. They fell into our hands at an opportune time; namely, the month we began the detective work on our old farmhouse.
"Jerry" is Jeremiah Lynch. Margaret is his wife. They were born in the 19th century. Michael is probably one of their sons. They had other children: a married daughter named Mary who lived and farmed in DeKalb (whose letters tell of the birth of her daughter, Mary Margaret), and at least two other sons: Daniel and John. These two bachelor brothers lived in this house until the mid-1960s.

We are gathering stories about them from these very personal documents and from deeds, wills, tax maps, and census rolls. Some of the stories come from neighborly "old-timers": the lady up the road, the man who delived wood, the town historian, and others. I will refrain from spilling any more beans at this time, as I don't want to steal my student's thunder. (that's two figures of speech in a row...) As mentioned in a previous post, #1 Son and #1 Daughter will be documenting all our findings and putting together an entertaining and informative presentation for family and friends. For example, #1 Daughter's assignment is to transcribe these brittle and stained letters to find clues about what farming life entailed in the early 1900s.
Next week, we meet with the woman who grew up in our house. Her parents purchased the farm from the Lynch's. Over the phone, she hinted broadly that she had an "inside scoop" on our home's hidden past. What an interesting (and memorable) evening is in store for us!

As I hover over the humming screen, my dear fam is settling into the mountains of the Dominican Republic, readying for eight days of intense construction. Tropical flora and fauna and mountain-fed waterfalls surround them. I miss them, and wish them God's protection and blessing.

May they eat pineapple for breakfast!

Monday, September 11, 2006

comforting thoughts

It doesn't take much doing to preserve our raspberry patch from early frost: just an effort to listen to the forecast and an armful of sheets and tarps. Arriving home last evening at dusk, I had barely enough time to attend to such a chore, and this morning I was happy I did so. Frosty fingers had touched the tops of the basil bushes, leaving blackened leaves as proof.

How I love fresh raspberries. Five years ago today, after having my fill of televised horror and loss, I stumbled out in the front field to gather some. The bowing canes hung heavy with ripe fruit, surprisingly untouched by the fresh destruction a hundred miles south of us. I picked reflectively; the soft pad of plump berries falling into my plastic bowl echoing the thump of my weepy heart. The insanity of what had transpired that morning needed balance, and somehow I sought to find it in my garden. Later that day, I gifted a friend with a sun-warmed bowl of precious fruit, and it evoked possibly the only smile of the afternoon.

Also five years ago today, I wearily traveled to Bard College for a rehearsal. I didn't have the heart to cancel it. Who knows? Perhaps something beautiful might transpire. My young cellist friend introduced me to her teacher, we arranged chairs and piano on a wooden stage drenched in warm indoor light, and we commenced. Dvorak was on the menu that afternoon, and I thank him for coaxing my sad heart into his world for a few hours. Besides the warp and woof of chamber music, another beautiful thing happened that day: I met Luis, her teacher. That day commenced a string of rich musical experiences with him and his gifted student for which I am grateful.

Candlelight vigils, wreath-layings, moments of silence, prayer, and reflection. All commendable venues for remembrance. But for me, I choose Friendship. And Music.

And Raspberries.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

weekend doings

The hotel lobby is gracious: trendy upholstery and geometric designs abound, along with a giant clock on the far wall that looks like it came from a Williamsburg clocktower. Hubby and I are here for the weekend. He is speaking at a men's breakfast, and I am sipping robust coffee and reading Newsweek. And posting about nothing online.

-I awoke this morning to hear of a miracle: a young boy whom we have been desperately praying for awoke from his coma-like state today, asking for his mother. This news came by cell-phone, and I was crashingly relieved to hear it. I ask God many questions while I am traveling upstream, and at moments like this one, I think He and I see eye-to-eye. By the way, one doesn't have to be in a kayak to travel upstream...

-Today and tomorrow we visit with dear old friends in the ministry. These folk are salt of the earth and I am looking forward to being in their easy presence.

-Tomorrow after church, I depart solo for home. Hubby stays behind to join the rest of the team traveling to the Dominican Republic for 10 days. #1 Son and #1 Daughter tag along, too. WHATEVER WILL I DO BY MYSELF FOR TEN DAYS?

I'll think of something.
Thanks for praying for my family.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

chutney experiment

Today was a day best spent outdoors.

After ringing the proverbial schoolbell and setting the daily regimen for my class (of two), I took to the lake in my sweet little boat. Ah, the spoils of being mom! (Not to mention pricipal and superintendant.) The night-herons I have been watching all summer have departed for warmer waters. Their usual roost of dead tree limbs is deserted, reminding me of a hastily vacated apartment with bare lightbulbs dangling from frayed wires. The lake was quiet. No rasp of outboard motors or whine of jet-skis, just the wet plunk of my plastic paddles.

#1 Son and #1 Daughter stacked wood and mowed lawns this late-summer afternoon. I dragged an aluminum ladder over to our "orchard" to pluck pears and apples. Lazy wasps shopped my wares like so many finicky housewives, testing this piece of fruit and that before choosing their produce. Many of the pears were still green, which led me to experiment with this recipe. I made it up as I chopped, and I hope to remember how I did it. All amounts are exceedingly approximate, as I measured nothing!

Pear & Raisin Chutney

2 quarts green pears, cored & chopped
1 cup raisins
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 T cinnamon
2 tsp cloves
2 tsp cardamom seeds

Simmer all in large heavy saucepan for 1 to 2 hours, until thick. Stir often, making sure the bottom doesn't burn!

That's it. We ate some with our grilled chicken and rice for dinner. The rest I canned in pint jars.
I would recommend it as a condiment for pork, turkey, or lamb. Better yet: alongside sharp cheese and whole wheat crackers.

With doings like this, I suppose Fall is a welcome visitor after all. (sigh)

goin'-to-church -meetin'- reflections

reckon: to count; to esteem or consider, depend on or rely
reckon with: to include in consideration or planning; to deal with

Some people are forces to be reckoned with. Such a man, Ford Reynolds shared at last night's meeting.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a college student, Ford was already a respected teacher and elder at the church. He taught Sunday School, shared informally from the pulpit, belted out the old hymns, and always, always prayed for anyone in need. I have kept my note-filled journals from his classes on faith, healing, and basic Christian doctrine; they have served me well. His belly-laugh, replete with shaking shoulders and sparkling eyes, have the same effect as a public yawn: a like-response from all around him. God's word is his credo, unshaking and unapologetic.

He carrys his 78 years like a badge of honor. Although his speech is steeped in memories, he lives in the anticipation of tomorrow. "What will God do next?" he booms, laughing with wonder. "I think God wants to move, how about you?" he asks rhetorically as he flips through his Bible with practiced purpose.

I am grateful for a man like Ford Reynolds. Anybody say Amen?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

noble pursuits

"And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea; and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.
Now these were more noble-minded than those of Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so."
( Acts 17:10-11)

These words, and the following excerpt from the autobiography of Frederick Douglass, humble and inspire me:

"...Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she began to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learning this, she assisited me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read.
...Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read.
...The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted to teachers....When I was sent on errands, I always took my book with me, and by doing one part of my errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson before my return. I used to carry bread with me, enough of which was always in the house, and to which I was always welcome; for I was much better off in this regard than many of the poor white children in the neighborhood. This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowlege...."

The valuable bread of knowlege is being offered up this week in schools all over the Land of the Free and the Brave, and this school-marm's heart is looking to whip up some hunger around these here parts. Our own beloved Alma Mater, The Hull Homeschool Academy, started cracking the books on Labor Day. (Most appropriate, I say.) We begin the academic year with a look at the Underground Railroad and its connections, if any, to our own 1830 brick farmhouse. Inspired by the Smithsonian's brilliant exhibit, "Within These Walls...", and bolstered by interviews, visits to the County Courthouse, and some helpful websites, we "set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever the cost of trouble" to do some hands-on learning.

My daily prayer is that all this learning becomes a lifelong thirst for knowledge. The goal is not the facts and figures themselves, or even the slaking of the thirst, but rather a God-steered pursuit that shapes us for life.

Call us fanatical, if you must. But we prefer "noble-minded".

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

admission: a few thinky thoughts

My thoughts have been crowded since we returned home from vacation. Crowded with kitchen-chores, school preparation, and personal interaction. I like that kind of busy-ness; it has something to show for itself. Multi-colored glass jars shine on the pantry shelves. Tidy piles of books and notebooks stand at the ready for the ten o'clock scholar. Friends & family move about me with ease and grace because of time invested wisely.

Equipped with such a valuable harvest, it was only last evening that I reflected on my latest acquisitions: recent memories of beautiful works of art. The rich in cash can acquire their art physically, with nary a dent in their pocketbooks. But the rich in imagination are challenged to acquire their art mentally, and what a privilege that is! Nothing quite compares to it. The few framed prints in my home only serve as gateways to my memory. I will think, "I saw that. The real, live painting." The dustcloth, textbook, or chore-at-hand must rest patiently; this thought needs space to live. Lucky for my family that we only own a few reproductions, or nothing practical would be accomplished around here.

Art is miraculous. Think about it: someone takes a wooden stick in hand. That stick may have hair tucked into one end. He (or she) coats it in ground pigment and oil and proceeds to cover a piece of wood, cloth, or paper. The creator walks away, lives his life, and possibly dies (eventually). But his work, the outpouring of his heart and mind, stays behind and continues to say amazing things. Someone like me takes it all in, and brings it home with me in my head. I actually carry it around with me, like an eternal file.

Many times I have marveled in the concert hall thusly: sticks and hair here, too. Wooden boxes which have been fashioned carefully, festooned with animal gut and ivory, and slicked with pine resin and buffed with oils, are made to sing. (Wooden boxes, for goodness sake!) Hands and breath pull sound from carved and molded wood and brass. Blotches of ink on rolls of creamy paper tell the story, excruciatingly extracted from a composer's heart. The wood and plaster of wall, ceiling, floor, and bench resound with the filagree arc which we call music.

These, and other ruminations, keep me company on a regular basis. Think of them as clues to what goes on in that factory in my head. And with those clues in hand, I'll continue to sally forth in my rewarding quest to require thought as admission to this here blog.

Monday, September 04, 2006

over the sound waves

My dear Friends #30a and #30b surely bring spice to my life. Friend #30a likes to compose lovely music in his spare time, and is finally being recognized nationally for his work. My North Country friends are encouraged to tune to NCPR (89.5 fm) tonight from 8-10 pm to take in the latest Performance Today broadcast. You will enjoy Robert Manno's music performed by fabulous musicians. By the way, I know him. And also: he is my friend. (I like to brag about my friends.)

And just in case my loyal readers want to look at pictures while they listen, I have provided such.
Crane graduate and Metropolitan Opera star Maggie Lattimore was a joy to meet, work with, and listen to.

Bob Manno, conductor

Maggie Lattimore, teacher Pat Misslin, and friends

art gallery reception, post-concert

interior of hall (wonderful acoustics!)

Windham Civic Centre

Saturday, September 02, 2006

end of summer fling

Tonight's dinner-doings would definitely qualify as a gathering. The guest list includes one family of 9, three visitors from out-of-town, Friend #12 (who lives here), and my family of four. Total: 17 hungry people. After dinner, we will build a bonfire, make s'mores, and generally whoop it up.
The occasion? Friend #37 is coming with his mom and younger brother. Tomorrow, the church officially sends out a team to China for whole year and Friend #37 is on the docket. We are excited for him; a few of us are the teensiest bit jealous.

In 1996, I traveled to Beijing for two weeks to visit my college room-mate (and maid of honor) who was teaching there. We ate authentic cuisine in little storefronts, saw the requisite Forbidden City and Tianamen Square, and ventured into the mountains to climb the Great Wall. Our field trip to the wall was quirkier than most tourist's outings. We ate our picnic lunch in someone's front yard (with permission, of course) and then hiked a twisting goat's path straight up a stony mountain to the base of the wall. Shoulders were offered for support, fingers and toes were wedged into crevices, and backpacks flung over heads before we clambered victoriously into an ancient watchtower. We then walked miles on the crumbly ridge of this famed wall, surrounded by oriental scenery that looked like a silk-screened wall panel: piled mountains, other-worldy clouds, and in the distance, the snake-like wall that cleverly wove over and around it all before slipping away into the horizon.

Friend #37 is a good friend of ours, a heartfelt musician, a brother in the faith, and one heck of a scrabble-player. Let's rejoice with him in his distant adventures and look for great happenings wherever he goes.

post script: Friend #37 insists he was playing "just for fun". (translated: "don't ask who won"....)

Friday, September 01, 2006

kayaking & crabapples

Since I had an apppointment in Madrid this morning, I decided to arrive early enough to kayak the Grasse River. Today is the first of September! I decide to take advantage of every chance to experience the water.
I am usually the lone paddler on the Grasse River, and the lack of water-traffic amazes me. What a lonely, wild, sweet stretch of highway! Maybe it is not so much a secret to be kept, but only a privilege that preoccupied people don't care to cash in on. Poor people. Happy me.
A few bends past the railroad bridge and I am lost in my own world of willow, cattail, river, and sky. I gratefully tank up on tranquility, knowing that I can draw from the reserve throughout a bustling day.

Words come slowly to me tonight. Either I have nothing to say, or what I have to say is too submerged to be drawn to the surface. Maybe my words are like the crabapple mash that is dripping over a porcelain bowl on the kitchen table: too thick to be distilled. The tart liquid that eventually is extracted will be boiled with sugar and poured into rippled glass jars. But that's tomorrow's doings.

Stay tuned for the results.

Colonial Williamsburg

pics of this fabulous place and the Outer Banks on my flickr.
(click "pictures".)

there would be more, but Bubsie took his computer to Albany
this week. He's a good boy, tho'.