Monday, December 31, 2007

time to pray

The rhythmic thump of my shovel in the snow shakes the placid winter air. The ka-chunk of metal on pavement followed by the swish of tossed snow ricochets off the barn and then disappears into the soft blue undulating meadows. The sky is a gray flannel sheet, securely tucked in at every patch of horizon. I feel safe under this wintery bower.
I pray best when I work. The surest way for me to pass a few hours in prayer and contemplative thought is to take up a hoe, a rake, a bucket and rag, a paintbrush, or a vegetable peeler. The Shakers understood this well, as their proverb attests: "Hands to Work, Hearts to God".
Do you have time to pray today? Then pray for this little one.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

bears in the family room

The end of the year approaches and brings a peculiar tradition into our home: the hunkering down of #1 Son and his compadres to make the New Year's slide show for the church. Late-night sessions, extra faces at mealtime, phone calls back and forth to the church office, e-mails galore, three computers, and a rat's nest of wiring strewn over the family room carpet are the props for this production. All that, and large amounts of pizza.

In addition to the demands of an on-location production crew, Friend #21's rambunctious and beloved children came over for a visit today. After counting noses, I decided to make a giant pot of chicken-vegetable soup for lunch. The tech-crew joined us for a cacaphonous meal before returning to their glowing screens. Think lumbering bears yanked from hibernation by the smell of food who, upon eating everything in sight, growl at the interruption and crawl back into their caves for more sleep.

I hope everyone enjoys tomorrow's slide show. Keep your eyes peeled for some amazingly photogenic hands. They make soup, play piano, and so much more.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

holiness everywhere

A very roundy boy sat close enough to be half under my armpit and half over my lap. His mother and father had already been blessed with three "roundy" children. This description fits them completely, as their cheeks are soft and round, as are their blond foreheads, fingers, and tummies. #1 Daughter and I greeted these three adorable cherubs when they awoke, as per their parents request. (We told them to call us anytime, and four a.m. certainly qualified as "anytime"!) Mommy and Daddy were off to the hospital to welcome their Christmas Eve baby into the world. We were left in charge of the home-front: the Land of Sippy-Cups, Jammies, Super Heroes, and Chutes-n-Ladders.

But back to this roundy boy. His exuberance in having my complete attention had completely won my heart. He climbed onto the couch with a book about the Nativity and, to my great surprise, unabashedly began to read it aloud. His name is Noah and he is five years old. Words like shepherd and manger and even Bethlehem tripped easily enough off his tongue. He pointed out the star, the angels, and the animals with great authority. Together we admired the Baby Jesus in his bed of straw. The childish lilt of sounding out the words along with my soft intonation of "help" made the telling of this beloved tale akin to a responsive prayer like the ones found in the back of church hymnals. It was the kind of liturgy that just happens; the kind you wish you could work into your schedule on a regular basis but you can't because it is hard work to sit on a couch and wait for something holy to drop by.

That night, the Christmas Eve choir sang a song in honor of Jesus' birth. It, too, was liturgy.
A child is born, Alleluia!
A child is born, Alleluia!
Magnificent Glory, Alleluia,
Magnificent Light, Alleluia!

Above the golden glow of molten white candles, I took in a hundred faces that I love. Their mouths were full of His praise; the praise was tinged with wonder. Anything beyond our imagination demands our wonder, and wonder is a lovely type of praise.

The day after Christmas, #1 Daughter, Friend #12, and I paid a visit to admire two-day-old Zoe. Three excited siblings, damp heads fresh from the bath, leaped around me as I cradled her lovely roundness in my arms. Noah screeched to a halt and tenderly stroked her moist cheek.
"I love her face," he exclaimed brightly as he drank her newness in. "I love all my sisters' faces." He then dashed off in a very abrupt super-hero manner leaving me breathless with joy.

These choice moments were part of my Christmas week.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

my kind of crowd.....

-hangs out in the kitchen in the morning for a long time before the opening of gifts.
-swoons over cranberry-orange scones.
-relishes gifts such as a) books
b) hand-made clothing
c) gourmet coffee
d) a dyson vacuum. (the hostess of this blog especially...)
e) a Brian Regan DVD
-greets company with shouts of joy, including a dear family from Malone, a young man from Nigeria, and a newlywed couple that come bearing a gingerbread house and a box of custom-made cookies.
-talks so animatedly that they forget to eat Christmas dinner.
-holds a poetry session at the table.
-loves being read to (O. Henry's Gift of the Magi)
-takes caroling seriously.
-rocks out to White Christmas.
-departs reluctantly.

One more Kingly birthday celebration closer to our heavenly home!
Merry Christmas, everyone.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Gift better than his God no man can see;
This gift doth here the giver given bestow,
Gift to this gift let each receiver be:
God is my gift, Himself He freely gave me,
God's gift am I, and none but God shall have me.

-Robert Southwell

The longest day of the year is behind us. With the tempered light of a winter's afternoon waning and the peculiar deep-dark of a winter's evening fast descending, I kindle a few candles for comfort's sake. (How luxurious to light a candle for one's own pleasure! No one is at home except #1 Son and he is working quietly upstairs.) Dinner is in the oven: chicken parmesan and two loaves of whole wheat bread. Snippets of this morning's choir rehearsal run through my head as I check off what gifts I bought for whom. As I unhurriedly wrap the last Christmas gifts, my mind dwells on the astonishing gift of Himself to us, wrapped only in a rough swaddling cloth and a bed of straw.

Thanks be to God for His immeasurable gift!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

different kinds of footprints

North Country winters are not kind to my exercise plan. After gazing at the blank white yard and heavy gray sky this morning, I declared to Friend #7:
"I think I'll go kayaking today."
She was nonplussed and nary looked up from her toast. "Happy paddling there."

The rutted snow made walking difficult. The bitter cold didn't help either, but I was determined to get outside and stretch my lazy legs. As my head was tucked down into my scarf to avoid the seeping cold, I couldn't help but notice the turkey footprints strewn along my path. They were laughably big and prehistoric-looking and reminded me of splayed stars, the kind of stars that the magi followed on the Christmas cards of my youth. I visually followed their crooked path over the mounded snowbanks and into a turkey-sized opening in the brier bushes. No turkey in sight, but birdy footprints told their tale.

Footprints are in the news these days. Too many articles on measuring my personal carbon footprint have made me a rebel in a "ye are not of this world" kind of way. Rather than fret about how much jet fuel it took to cart me to Spain and back this summer or whether all my peanut-butter jars make it to the recycling bin , I resolve to don my eternity-glasses and think in more biblical proportions. What about a spiritual footprint?

For those who think that religious beliefs are so intensely personal that they shouldn't effect others, let me point out the One with the biggest footprint I know: Jesus. Signs of His "traveling through" are just about everywhere: on every main street (churches), on calendars ("year of our Lord"), in the history of every people, in our everyday language (for good or for bad), in the nightly news, in the bookstores, in the concert hall, on the radio, at weddings and funerals, in our most private moments. In our most public ones.

He is there with His fingerprint, impressing His holy image upon us, marking us with the moist fog of His very breath, sanctifying our human moments and measuring our mortal time by His omnipresence. And if all that were not enough, for those who respond to the invitation, He comes in to flow through us. A new way to leave fingerprints: from the inside out!

Will I leave a print in the snow that will outlast me?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

a party day

A lone cupcake defies the odds: forty guests devoured practically everything else in sight. Last night, we hosted the studio recital for #1 Son's violin teacher and boy, was it ever fun. After the performance, a we shared a pot-luck supper.

An impromptu children's choir was formed. No auditions required...

John (violin teacher) and his wife Nok

One of the angels at my elbow
We captured this shot earlier in the day of Friend #37 and his cello. I think the cello is such a classy instrument for a guy to play. (I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "chick-magnet"....)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

the girl advantage

A long, lazy snow day replete with a crock pot of chicken stew, games of Hugger-Mugger, and live music around the piano was winding down when the phone rang. It was really more of a jangle and not the friendly ringing of a hi-how're-you-guys-doin'-anyways. It is almost ten p.m. and the report is this: water running in a basement of one of our properties. This newsflash rousts the menfolk from their warm couches and thrusts them into the swirling snow while visions of plumbing dance in their heads. Do the words hardworking and responsible come to mind? Boy, do I appreciate my guys.

I like being a girl at times like this.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

productive people

-After sifting through a dozen empty CD cases and a few short stacks of case-less and nameless CDs that reside in a basket on the kitchen counter, I chose Bernstein Conducts Stravinsky with the New York Philharmonic. To me, this is creme de la creme meets creme de la creme with a dollop of creme de la creme on top.

-I am bracing for this weekend's snowstorm with some maniacal cleaning. When the flakes are falling fast and hard, today's work will justify long stretches in an armchair with a lap full of books and magazines.

-Hubby is gearing up for this weekend's storm by moving equipment around to different properties, including snowblowers, shovels, and trailers.

-#1 Son stood at my elbow yesterday and asked,"Hey mom. Can I get a ride to church tomorrow morning for the Psalty dress rehearsal? 'Cause I'm God." His chance to play deity was thrown out so casually that it still makes me laugh.

-Friend #37 has been practicing cello to beat the band. No reason; he just wants to, is all. Knowing that the unrefined quaver of an unmastered string instrument sometimes sets us to screaming and running, he graciously asks permission in this way: "Ahem. Is now a good time to pursue musical endeavors?"
"Sure, Joe. As long as I can vacuum at the same time."

-#1 Daughter is making Chocolate-Coconut Pinwheels. They are to die for, but quite a trick to roll out properly. Since this was her first attempt, I helped the process along. Little by little, she is taking the lead in being this family's preeminent baker! I am only too happy to pass the crown and scepter on to her.

-And what about Friend #7, you ask? She has been sewing secret projects in the guest room. From sneaky glances at her scrap pile, I can say without reservation: something good is coming to everyone she knows.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Fancy Nancy

Hubby whisked me away to an elegant B&B on my birthday. We had a relaxing time, even though our return trip was hampered by a blizzard! Here are a few sights that tickled my fancy.

Tupper Lake
Tupper Lake
The Christmas Tree at Cornerstone Victorian. It was donated by friends that needed to remove it because it was blocking their water-view. According to the innkeeper, it was an amazing feat to get it through the doors!
New friends: Mark and Jodie Guilzon from Feura Bush, NY. In a few months, they and their four children are moving to Tanzania for medical missions. Who knows? Maybe the Hulls can lead a team to assist them in the foreseeable future...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


see my star?

a very jumbled up front yard!
the finished product. Note the jolly fellow on the rooftop.
boys can bake, too. check out the frilly apron on #1 Son. What a guy.
getting the dough on to the pan is serious work.
"no more candy, Marky!" "sure, mom. whatever you say...."
chestnuts roasting on an open fire....with treble, tenor, and bass voices.

(To borrow a phrase from dear Friend #5b:) "It was a little zoo-ey around here...."
(To borrow the fashionable grammatical habit of making nouns into verbs:) We were "gingerbreading" with a friend and her five boys. This friend needs a number. I hereby dub her "Friend #17" for no particular reason. On top of the fact that I get to make up the rules, today is my birthday and I can do what I want to.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New heaven, New war

Benjamin Britten set these words to music in his "Ceremony of Carols" (an all-time favorite choral piece of mine!) but the poem was written in the late sixteenth-century. I love the juxtaposition of the weakness of a newborn baby and the power of that baby's calling. This is only an excerpt; you can read the poem in its entirety here.

This little Babe so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan's fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak, unarmed wise,
The gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows made of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior's steed.

His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus as sure his foe to wound,
The Angels' trumps alarum sound.

My soul with Christ join thou in fight,
Stick to the tents that he hath dight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little Babe will be thy guard;
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from the heavenly boy.
Robert Southwell

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Friendship Clubhouse skit

Does it qualify as eavesdropping if you overhear while lying in your own bed before the break of day and people are conversing just outside your open door in a very resonant hallway? The following quotations were all part of my morning wake-up call. I am not making this up.
Friend #37:
"I'm looking for a beard."
"Do you have a large box?"
"Does anyone have a baby doll I could borrow?"
"What kind of glue works with cotton balls?"
"What is tacky glue?"
"Where is the tacky glue in the craft room at church?"
"Do you have any masking tape because I want to....mask something."
"Is there a pillow around anywhere? I need it for a stomach."
"Do you have any wrapping paper?"
"Ana: can you be Eve?"
"Can I borrow a dollar bill? I'll pay you back..."
"Oh! Does anyone have a......(spoken hopefully) Santa hat?"

On his way out the door this morning:
"This is gonna be awesome."

Saturday, December 08, 2007

immensity cloistered

I didn't count the guests last night. Did anybody count the guests? I just know that two shortcakes, a bowl of berries, 4 pints of heavy cream, a tin of rum logs, a plate of sugar cookies, leftover ham and bean soup for those who hadn't had dinner, 4 board games, one card game, a movie, one performance of O Holy Night, and two renderings of Happy Birthday were enough to keep the party going. Oh, and Tang. It wouldn't have been the same without the Tang.
Happy Birthday, Friend #7.

Lest I lose sight of the reason that fresh pine boughs are strewn all over the house and electric candles twinkle in the windows, here is a poem to set things straight. I will chew on its message today in between voice auditions, where I need to sit quietly and amuse myself while professors scribble notes and shuffle paperwork. John Donne wrote this a few centuries ago and it has stood the test of time.


Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

mm mm good!

It has been a kitchen day. Five very hungry, chilly, and wet workers (my favorite family plus two extras) needed a hot lunch that would take them through 'til dark. Their goal is to finish the neighbor's roof today!
Grilled Ham & Cheese Sandwiches and Creamy Tomato Soup was today's special. I had forgotten until recently how easy and delicious homemade tomato soup can be. Here is the recipe (and I use the term "recipe" loosely). Bon appetit!

Creamy Tomato Soup

1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
2 large cans tomato puree or crushed tomato
5 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda*
fresh dill weed (dried is fine)
salt & pepper to taste

In a deep sauce pan, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook until soft but not brown. Stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes. Whisk together the tomatoes and baking soda. Add to the pan, along with the milk, whisking gently until all is evenly combined. Heat until piping hot, whisking occasionally. Season to taste with dill, salt & pepper. Keep warm and reheat to serve. This soup will thicken nicely if you can resist eating it all at once!

*prevents tomatoes and milk from curdling

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

a sprinkling of Christmas thoughts

One of the most ridiculous marketing attempts ever: the Upside-Down Christmas Tree.
One of the best: Friend #37's Chinese card game. (If you have been introduced to it, you know about the instant addiction.) With #1 Son's computer-design skills and Friend #7's artistic input, a prototype deck of cards is on the way. Coming soon to a store near you...

We found this online. Friend #7 has declared she is making one for #1 Daughter as a Christmas gift. The jacket is already purchased, as are the tights and footwear. Today we peruse JoAnn Fabrics for the perfect material. Even if it's not a surprise, Christmas presents are so fun!

I dusted off a practically antique score for this, a must-have in the department of mood-setting seasonal music. Since it is for piano four-hands, I had Santa's elves deliver some copies to her and to her so we can cobble together a presentable performance for various holiday gatherings. Piano duets are double the pleasure, at least for the players.

Anyone have some evergreen trees on their property that could stand a bit of trimming? I am looking for armfuls of fresh greens in order to deck the Hulls. I don't mind paying for a tree, but our budget would appreciate free cuttings.

Note to self: a breakfast that consists of rum logs is a sure-fire recipe for dieting disaster. STAY AWAY FROM THE RUM LOGS.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Harley Rendezvous

When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been too long
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed
that with the sun's love
in the spring
becomes the rose
( from"The Rose")

She hunched apologetically in the very last row of chairs, way in the back of the church. She was dressed in layers of faded black, and the smell of cigarettes hung over her like a noxious cloud. Around her neck hung a curious medallion--something not quite the Star of David. I knew better than to ask about it. Her long dark hair hung down her back and was wrapped tightly in black tape, biker-style. She showed me the book that was in her lap: Alfred's Adult Piano Course. In it was a tattered photocopy of The Rose.
"I love that piece," she fiercely rasped. "I can totally play it, too. They let me practice here. Whenever I want."
I asked her what her name was. "Harley?" I ventured, making sure I had heard correctly.
"Yeah. It's not my real name. That's 'Judy'."
She made a disgusted face and shook her head violently. After a few more words with her, I excused myself to prepare for leading worship. I had met a character, for sure, and I wondered what her story was.
Fast-forward five hours or so. Rich teaching, testimonies, fellowship, and delicious luncheon, music, laughter, prayer and a few tears later, she and I are donning our coats for an hour-long road trip home and both of us are fishing for her car keys. Here comes Harley, creeping hesitantly across the front of the sanctuary looking rather timorous and trembly despite her tough exterior.
"Hey Harley." I say, just to let her know we see her.
"Um. Now you can maybe pray for me." Her eyes darted across the room to a group of women too involved in chatter to notice. She lowered her voice conspiratorially. "Just kinda quiet-like so nobody hears, okay?"
So we prayed for Harley kinda quiet-like, but as sincere as a summer sky. As we parted, I felt sure that God had touched her deep down. As Friend #8 and I stepped outside into the snow-rutted streets, I wondered aloud why Harley sat alone in the back row and why the other women were friendly toward her yet didn't invite her company.
"Harley insists she is a witch," explained Friend #8 with a maybe so/maybe not shrug of her shoulder. "But the church lets her play their piano. And she keeps coming to they let her come."
We may have prayed for a witch today. I'd rather think we touched a broken, scared, hurting soul that is aching to know she is loved; that her life means so much more than all the junk that has been thrown at it. And while the other women that attended our meeting may have walked away encouraged in a myriad of important ways, I pray that Harley can just hang on 'til spring, for the Son's love to work its eternal effect on her.

a little rock star

Forget visions of sugar plums.
Last night, visions of a little rock star danced in my head.

She was not alone. A fantastic band was backing her up.
(oh yeah. #1 Son was at the soundboard, too)
Rock on, Julia. I'll keep dreaming on your behalf.