Thursday, November 29, 2007

expectations exceeded

This morning, we finished the novel "Great Expectations". It took three whole months for two very plausible reasons:
1. it is a long book. (380 pages in the unabridged Dover edition.)
2. it was read aloud. This very old-fashioned way to read a book is highly recommended for optimal family participation and enjoyment.
When we first began, the rambling and embellished descriptions of everything from the weather to facial features grated on our fast-food nerves. We wanted an action-packed storyline and we wanted it now. After re-setting our tolerance dial to a slower speed, we settled into letting Dickens unwind his tale at a nineteenth-century pace. By the time the plot began to thicken, we were enamoured with Pip (the main character) and Joe Gargery the blacksmith ("ever the best of friends...").
I encouraged the kids to stick with me in this endeavor and the process was helped along by watching the movie version from the local library. We struck gold with this, and although we broke down and viewed the ending before we had finished the book, it didn't ruin the final chapters.
Our next literary adventure? Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Anyone want to read a part?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

aprons with pockets

A kettle of turkey noodle soup is on today's lunch menu. Four diligent workers are scraping shingles off the neighbor's roof as I watch their progress from the kitchen window. Muffled work-a-day sounds come to me across the blazing white snow, punctuated by the occasional whump of what I hope to merely be heavy scraps thrown from the roof. I count heads: one, two, three......four. Why do I feel it's going to be a long day?
A mother never voluntarily imagines the worst; it comes to her unbidden. That's why I prefer aprons with pockets on days like this. Stuffed in my apron pockets are wadded balls of kleenex in which are buried worried mutterings and maternal sighs. If planted deeply enough and watered with a few fretful tears, they have a fighting chance to morph into prayers. A spiritual mom could streamline this process and go directly to prayer and some days I am that kind of mom. But today I wear my apron like a safety net and stir the soup with a big wooden spoon.
"Speak softly and carry a big stick" works in the kitchen, too, you know.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Saturday Night


Navin, Lexi, Jules, and Millsie

Poods & Jules

Navin & Lexi

None of these pics were taken by me, I don't think.
Wait, no. The one of Poodie & Nanz was. Whatever.
Aren't these girls gorgeous?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

doctor's orders

Our dear pastor spoke about suffering today. Rather, his sermon was about other things, but the topic of why bad things happen to good people is one brittle layer beneath every conversation around these here parts. We are still reeling from our recent loss of a young man who was brimming with life and promise. Our hearts are jagged and violently bent, like a child's bike run over by a tractor-trailer. In my mind's eye, the dented wheels are still spinning.
What a blessed relief to focus on giving thanks this week. In our human way, we accompanied our gratitude with actions fit for a Broadway opening night production. We roasted turkeys, chopped vegetables, whisked gravy, and soaked pans overnight in soapy water. We lit candles, lingered over dessert, checked the TV channels for holiday specials, and entertained strangers and quirky relatives. The simple and productive acts of doing, coupled with lazy bouts of doing nothing gave us respite; breathing space; an E-Z chair in which to grab a power nap. The story of the first Thanksgiving was a comfort, too. After the Stormy Travels and the Starving Time and the Epidemics, the Pilgrims and the Indians shared their bounty with one another and at their table was peace. This is immensely gratifying and it buys me a portion of sanity. Not to mention an ounce of, "okay, I can do this..."
This morning we worshiped with complete abandon and only a little bit of looking over our shoulders to see if anything else bad was coming our way. And then we sat in the collective warmth of four hundred kindred spirits breathing holy breaths like sheep huddled on the chilly yet sunny side of a precipice and opened our Bibles to Romans 8.
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."(v.18)
and then:
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved." (v. 22-23)
As our dear pastor expounded upon these words, an imaginary shaft of light beamed down on us; that kind of sunbeam fraught with a host of suspended dust motes that dip and dive in the air. Their usually invisible specks swirled above our heads in fierce agreement. Yes, we groan. We positively ache, we pine in our earthly suffering. We lean towards heaven with our last crumb of human strength, clutching and gasping and chafing against bad stuff that sticks like burrs. Our feet are mired in the kind of muck that no motherly scour can remove.
And yet we have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit, a down payment of good things to come. Jesus gave it to us, and He is no Indian-giver (apologies to Squanto). The whole chapter of John 14 is my medicine today; a life-giving dram of hope that is good for the rest of the journey.
He tells me this: Take it and be well.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

the best laid plans of ice and men

Icy bullets of snow pattered incessantly throughout the night on the metal roof over our bed. I usually revel in the nasty weather, as it means the cancellation of outside activities and the instant gift of a "free day" to putter in the kitchen or lounge on the couch with a book. Bonus.
But today is Thanksgiving Day. The puttering in the kitchen was a given and the table was set for eleven. Two turkeys (practically a flock) were resting in the fridge, ready for roasting. After checking the weather channel and making a few phone calls to Watertown and beyond, Plan A was dumped for Plan B. After another few calls, Plan B was chucked for Plan C.
Plan C involves cooking only one bird, trimming the rest of the menu, making a dessert (as all desserts were to be imported), and reluctantly removing a number of place settings from the table. We've checked the cellular highways and the byways: free and clear of strangers in need of an invitation.
So as roving blasts of icy-mix give way to pure snow and as gentle folk gather all around the country to be with those they love, may we give thanks from the heart for all our blessings. May I be as thankful tomorrow when I cook Thanksgiving Dinner #2--weather permitting, that is.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

acts of gratitude

Dilly beans, Spicy Salsa, Sweet Pickles, and Vinegar Peppers stand ready for delivery to Mechanicville, Watertown, Greeneville NC, and the Outer Banks. With apologies to my sister Judy for not making her favorite this year ("No chutney??)--hope they make it intact!

When life gives you not enough time to let the bread rise---make pita bread! We slathered it with hummus and called life good. Talk about being grateful for your daily bread....
How is it possible that this friend doesn't have a number? Her hubby's number is #112, so now he is #112a and she is #112b. (Remember: it's my blog and I get to make up the rules.) Anyway.
Friend #112b and I are feeling mighty clever tonight as we hang our way-cool Thanksgiving banners. I enjoyed her company this afternoon sans kiddies, which is an unusual way to converse with her!
The act of giving thanks can be spontaneous or long in the planning. Either way, it is good to give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

giving thanks

Tomorrow, she and I are going to make something like this:

Fun, huh?
And on Thanksgiving Day, my favorite family will sample some of this and some of that.
It's always exciting to try something new, dontcha think?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

comfort food all around

Food for the body:
While the boneless chicken breasts are still a little frozen, slice them into inch-thick cutlets. After fully thawed, pound them lightly with a meat tenderizer until they are evenly a half inch thick. Dredge in egg and breadcrumbs and brown on each side in a hefty fry pan. Drain on paper towels. (or, as my grandmother did, on clean paper grocery bags!)
Place in single layers into a shallow casserole. Cover generously with tomato sauce and then mozzarella cheese. Top with grated parmesan and chopped parsley.
Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.

Food for the soul:
The Valley of Vision
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

cookie factory

Future Home-Makers
Edible Works of Art

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

autumn chores

Girl in Leaf-Pile

Yard Work is Fun

Some Animals use Camoflage to hide from their Predators

Monday, November 12, 2007

singing lessons

-release the tension. (easier said than done...)
-economize. don't make unnecessary movements.
-take a breath in the shape of the vowel you are about to sing.
-use all of your breath by breathing more, not conserving. it doesn't make sense, but it works.
-the hardest notes to sing are not the high notes, but the ones just before the high notes.

As evidenced from the above and from sitting in on hundreds of voice lessons over the years, I can attest to this: 95% of singing is merely psyching yourself out.

Friday, November 09, 2007


I carried around this sadness like a wet sack of sand today, the peculiar sadness that comes from acknowledging another's grief.
At home today, I immersed my arms in hot soapy dishwater and admired the late afternoon sun which sprawled through the frost-bent grass behind our house, making me squint my eyes in pleasure. But then I thought of her grief, and I was broken afresh.
At school today, the third and fourth grade choir sang Christmas lyrics with unabashed glee ("Dashing, dashing, dashing, dashing, dashing through the snow..." ) while humorously nudging each other about their musical cleverness. I sat at the piano, watching their notes tumble by, when a dissonant pang interrupted my reverie. Someone I care about is low, so very low with sorrow. She is far away in Italy, but I want to help carry a piece of her torn heart.
This evening, I approached 57 Market to retrieve #1 Son. He was waiting for me there alone, and all the lights were off except a few soft lamps in the far back corner. I lingered on the noisy street and peered through the storefront windows at his Paganini-like figure. He stood on the carpet in the glow of the dim wattage and played his violin in the warm light, his bow moving up and down as if under water, as if in a dark dream. I couldn't hear the music, but I knew from his movements what it sounded like. I opened the door and I heard it streaming across the tiled floors, coming to me as I knew it would.
If I could open the door to heaven to her so her ragged questions would be answered, I would do so. Instead I pray for her, which is sort of like opening doors, anyway. Doors of grace, peace, comfort, and assurance be yours, Elizabeth. May you look with faith through the window and though your eyes be flooded with tears and your hope worn away by fierce rains, may you know that the music is on the other side. Waiting for you.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


I wriggled and stamped my feet impatiently. I fussed with the lay of my clothes, pulling at the hem of my shirt and re-setting the fall of my pant legs. I itched my ear. I noted the hairstyles of the people around me. I thought about what I might snack on before bed. I curled the edges of my music score into tiny scrolls and then let them pop back into place. Instead of following my line in the score, I read the copyright information at the bottom of the page. I barely suppressed disbelief when the sopranos came in like a flock of warbly crows. I myself ignored my own entrance, preferring to indulge in a jaw-splitting yawn.
I was a very naughty choir-member last evening.

Monday, November 05, 2007


The moment I heard Friend #12's voice on the line, I knew she was okay.
Her words came gently, happily. They were tender and lilting, laced with the hint of a smile. Her tone was upbeat, yet she spoke of missing me. She teased me for worrying about her, and I readily accepted her silly chastisement because I was guilty as charged. After all, she had traveled solo from Syracuse to Columbus, and then on to St. Louis. She landed in the lap of people she had never met, who took her to a place she would be obliged to call home for an undetermined length of time, where she would have to make new friends, learn some tough truths, apply challenging concepts, and allow God to transform her completely.
Pretty much, she has been my amiable shadow for the last year and a half. We said good-bye only five days ago, which explains the constant reminders to myself that she is not within earshot or arm's reach.
Oh, she is a good girl and a brave one. Before she left, she told me that she is taking the cap off the limit of whatever God wants to do with her life. Maybe grad school, maybe not. Maybe learn a few languages, teach overseas, work with children, teach ESL, who knows? I know this: in order to have vision, one must have hope. --Which reminds me of a scripture: "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:5 (NIV)
Way to go, Friend #12.
Way to go, God.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

the best things

-visiting a dear sis-in-law on Saturday, snuggling with my eight-year-old niece, and eating African Lamb Stew over rice! Just the right amount of spices and oh-so-authentic.

-spending the night at the Little Yellow House, snuggling with four beautiful kids, waking up to seeing the new paint on the (now) Big Yellow House from my bedroom window.

-A few phone conversations that prove the faithfulness of God, conversation on the couch that proves the faithfulness of God, thinking about the faithfulness of God. Basically, the faithfulness of God all over the place.

-No groceries in the fridge, but a checkbook that I can take to the store that will cover all our necessities. Including milk. and. um. toilet paper.

-Amish haystacks. Aren't they so "Van Gogh"?