Thursday, January 31, 2008

from the photo album

The kitchen is my favorite room in the house.

When we bought this old house almost six years ago, there was a separate room (an unfinished work shop) where the harvest table is now. The kitchen area sported gold-flecked counter-tops and dark paneled cabinetry. The floors were orange tile (as bad as it sounds...) and the drop ceiling hid the original post-and-beam construction. We didn't know what we had until Hubby & son started knocking things apart!

After opening up the room, we installed oak flooring. The lower cabinets are stock from Lowes, but the upper cabinets are built by Hubby; all open shelves. We designed the island and plopped the convection stove in the heart of it. It turned out to be a the best idea! Everyone gathers around the island and watches me cook. This may be unnerving for some, but I kinda like it. I always hated having my back turned to my family or company when I was concocting something!

I bought the white dessert plates displayed over the table for $1/@ at an outlet. Hubby built the plate-shelf.

The table was crafted from attic floorboards placed over my father's long-retired drafting table which my mom had relegated to the cellar. Our only expense was the polyurethane to coat the top.

I did pay a pretty penny for the Tibetan sideboard at an antiques shop in Troy, New York. But it is worth far more than I paid for it and it is very beloved by every member of the family.

Here are Ana and Liana in front of the Palace Theater in Albany.

We had arranged to meet Ben's former violin teacher, a long-time member of the Albany Symphony, at the stage door. Barbara taught him from age four until age eleven. She hadn't seen him in almost six years, and said she wouldn't have recognized him!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

patching things up

Believe me when I say this: I could never host a craft-blog. Any resident craftiness of mine is more along the lines of sneakiness and trickery (all in fun of course). BUT.

Lately, I have been clever with a needle and thread. And in a typical display of sneakiness, I slipped into Friend #7's bedroom when she was not at home and helped myself to her recycled, color-coordinated and meticulously folded pile of fabric remnants. Being a "my stuff is your stuff"-type girl, she is usually thrilled when I snitch a pinch from her treasures, but this time she wailed dramatically when she came home from work. She said (and I quote):

"But that's my Sound of Music Von Trapp Family Singers material!"

My other choice (the green corduroy with embroidered St. Bernards) was not begrudged of me, seeing that she had a whole two pant-legs left of that.

Anyway. I rescued (someone say "re-purposed"?) two pairs of jeans from the dustbin and put them stylishly back into circulation.
That about wraps it up for the type of fun I'm having. How 'bout y'all?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

two violinists

The scoop: Yesterday, #1 Son fiddled his way into winning first place in a concerto competition. The winner (the aforesaid #1 Son...) was awarded the honor of performing a solo with the Orchestra of Northern New York in March. The winner (a.k.a. you-know-who) will also walk away with a tidy stack of cash. We are grateful for the orchestra's generosity!

Anyway, that's what the hubbub is all about.

In other news: after the competition, we hopped in the PT and drove four hours south to attend a fabulous concert. The incomparable Joshua Bell joined the Albany Symphony at the magnificent Palace Theater. We perched ourselves in the next-to-uppermost row and reveled in his glorious sound and electrifying stage presence.

Never enough music for this mom!

Friday, January 25, 2008

fish for sale. fresh fish.

Does anyone around here go ice-fishing?
Put me in touch with a man who rolls his little shanty onto the ice,
hauls out a saw, and sets out tip-ups.
I have some business to do with him.

Perch. O my.
You just lightly bread those little babies
and fry them up in a bit of butter.
Pull up your chair, mister.
tuck a napkin under your chin
for here they come
snapping hot.

O my.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

the concert hall

An empty concert hall is a magical place.

Row upon row of empty seats line the aisles. If the house lights are low, jagged shadows rifle across the tops of them, forming lines of perspective that burrow into nothingness. Underneath these seats are stray paper programs, a single glove, a cough-drop wrapper, and the fine grit from a thousand pairs of shoes.

There is a certain silence louder than noonday traffic that pervades such an empty place. Silence, I say, that is so present that you listen for it as one would the coming of a train. Like the maw of a black cave, the walls yearn for a sliver of sonority in order to be sated. Sound is the rice or bread of a resplendent hall.

To test the air, I wiggle a seat (the kind that springs up when you rise from it) and it's whispery thump is quickly swallowed up by thick upholstery. (The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall retains its original torturous wooden seats-- and the gift shop staff makes a killing by selling blue foam seat cushions to its patrons. Before such an innovation, many a posterior eased its way from left to right for the duration of symphonies, cantatas, piano recitals, and the like for well over a hundred years. Somebody, somewhere, must have a tale about a splinter.)

In the heights of the rafters, recording wires are strung about. They swing from pillar to post in graceful long arcs and are only missing a trapeze artist for my imagination to be satisfied.

In old concert halls, dusty legends hide everywhere in the heavy curtains and in the crevices of the sculpted drapery. Not one artist ever stoops to shake them out. Not one. Before each performance, they are busy imagining their encore. And when the encore is finished, they are off to greet the throngs who await them with flowers. What is left behind is only this: During the last refrain, a few specks of glitter from the soprano's bodice are swept into the air by her swift gestures, and they hover electrically in the quavering light before they, too, turn to fancy dust. Always you can see them sparkle in the filtered light, briefly, as the artists strut by. They hover in the air like ghostly fireflies of yesteryear before they settle into their most humble state.

#1 Son draws his bow across his violin strings; the lovely grainy sound draws my attention to the warm circle of light on the wooden stage. I settle into a dark seat and tune my ears to his music. The phantom house hushes suddenly around me -like summer crickets when I walk near a hedgerow- and off we go wherever Bruch intends to take us.

Monday, January 21, 2008

rejoice. do I have to say it again?

Her post about joy really got me thinking.

My thoughts were polished to a shine today when I read an essay from Normal Kingdom Business by Andree Seu. It's titled "Next Tuesday" and here it is, pared down only slightly, for your edification.

Starting next Tuesday I'm going to praise the Lord like gangbusters. That's when my meeting in Harrisburg is over and I can exhale. How wonderful it will be then, the white-knuckling behind me and the joy in Christ before me. For now, I need to worry.

I'm going to rejoice in the Lord, I really am, but I cannot rejoice today. Today, all sleep-deprived, my goal is just to muddle through till bedtime when I'll catch a solid eight and be in shape to "reign in life" tomorrow.

Woe is me! The same old sin has snared my soul again. I have repented copiously, but how could I, vile sinner that I am, come to His gates with joyful praise without a proper pause (of several days) to beat my breast and stay away and suffer for my wretchedness? Psalm 51 pleads, "blot out my transgression" and "restore to me the joy of Your salvation," but surely David doesn't mean today. Must keep respectable delay of time betwixt the two.


Paul commands, "Rejoice!" (Philippians 3:1). David says, "Rejoice!" (Psalm 32:11). But that will have to wait a week or two 'cause now I'm in a stew. There's something I want badly and I must be anxious till it's mine. A major life decision has me tied in knots until it's made. and Satan has a laundry list of reasons why I should not sing (Zechariah 3:1). So pray excuse me from the banquet of His joy: "I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it...I have bought five yokes of oxen, and I go to examine them...I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." (Luke 14).

No. This nonsense stops today. Not "I'll rejoice someday," but "I'm rejoicing now." I have decided that William J. Reynold's hymn, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus," is not Arminianism but decisiveness. Once a day or 50 times a day, as needed, I will fight off fear with praise.

"Life is a series of problems. Either you are in one now, you're just coming out of one, or you're getting ready to go into another one" (Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life). Next Tuesday is a vain imagining. and you will never just coast into joy but you must take it by the horns.
For joy must be intentional or it is no match for anxiety. God shows the way out of heaviness and into joy: you best put on "the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit" (Isaiah 61:3). The hour is late, next Tuesday never comes, and faith in God is either now or naught. Time to stop this stumbling in defeat and live in joy that's worthy of the gospel.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

sports are really ok. really.

Football has been good to me.

This afternoon, football gave me the afternoon off from food prep. Hubby brought home two pizzas and two boxes of hot wings. (I couldn't resist throwing together a quick salad for my own gastronomic well-being, but that was a snap.)

One-half of one of the pizzas was veggie. That's nice.

Football has herded the noisy ones into the back room which, when the door is snugly shut, is amazingly sound-proof. That leaves me alone in the rest of the house. Except for the clink of jeans in the dryer, the hum of the heater, and the barely perceptible tinkle of snow hitting the windows, it is very very quiet. This is nice, too.

With one game almost done and one game to go, I stretch my legs and meander into the kitchen. No one said I was off K.P. completely. A small crowd is coming over for the next game and whole-grain banana pancakes are on the menu. I am eager to be the hostess for a happy gang, a few of which will likely play Scrabble with me. Not a bad deal.

After a whole evening of overhearing muffled whoops and clapping from the back room, I slip in to observe the game go into overtime. Sensing the electricity in the air, I stay for the last minutes of the game. Hey! The guy that flubbed the last kick has now redeemed himself. He neatly places the ball between the goal posts. The fans go wild. I feel elated that I watched ten minutes of the game and wasn't even bored.

Everyone had a great time today, and after seeing our guests out into the frigid night, the weary fans trooped off to bed. Instead of following them, Friend #7 and I stayed up to watch a way cool documentary. The couches were still warm from the football-marathon. Which was nice.

See how good football has been to me?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

monkey on my back

I've been double-tagged and cannot ignore it any longer.
I'm throwing out this stingy bone: I will divest myself of those niggling questions, but ask to be excused from passing the baton. I have good reasons:

a) everyone I know has already been tagged.
b) even if I found someone under a blogger-rock that has been overlooked, I cringe at the thought of asking them to come up with seven more.
c) in my humble opinion, the whole game reminds me of a chain letter. (Not a fan, folks.)

Those excellent and compelling reasons aside, I'll admit that it has been entertaining to read my friends' responses.
As I say whenever I play Scrabble with Friend #37,
"Thanks for letting me break the rules."

1. Since I turned 10, my family was a blended one. The way things lined up after my mom married my step-dad, there were six of us kids in the exact order as the Brady Bunch. (I was Marcia...) We would watch the show, which was at its height of popularity, and hold our sides in laughter at the ridiculous story lines. My mom would only say, "Where's my maid?"

2. I once held the title First Prize Accordionist, Northeastern Division for my age group. My rendition of Ravel's Bolero was the clincher.

3. I love anchovies on pizza.

4. When I was in college, I worked as a draftsman at my uncle's civil engineering office. After graduating, I was a waitress at Friendly's. I did NOT love the blue-and-white checkered polyester uniform.

5. For two glorious weeks, I was the musical director/conductor for a show in London's West End. It was a production of The Snow Queen.

6. I have a notoriously bad musical memory. (Really, you wouldn't believe it! I can't remember more than two notes in a row unless I mentally jot them down.)

7. My great-great-great-great(....) grandfather was Abra Clark, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Friday, January 18, 2008

see the light

It is not nice to make fun.

My favorite family collapses in laughter whenever we read the weekly newspaper ad of a local window replacement business. Each week brings a freshly-composed "poem" which supposedly touts the benefits of replacement windows. These gems are read aloud at the table, posted on the fridge, and shared gleefully with the uninitiated. Somehow they have escaped the claim-to-fame of being posted on my blog.

Until today.


New Year
New Game
Rain, Wind,
Mud, Thud.
Windows shaking.
Call On Us.
Save Time & Money.
See the Light.
Our Windows are Tight.
Bright at Night
To Hold You Right.
So No Fright.
No Fret.
Call Before
You Forget.



Time to Make
The Big Move.
Will it be Windows,
or Toys?
Fix My Home,
or Rome?
Out to Play,
or Stay?
What To Do?
What To Say?
Refund On It's Way.
Can't Think
Can't Tell.
Oh What the Hay.
Tomorrow's Another Day.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

what NOT to post:

Too many days have gone by without an entry--probably the most in a row since the establishment of this bog. In my sorry attempt to dredge up something to say, I have only come up with a list of topics not to broach. For your amusement, here they are:

-not a running tab on what I've made for dinner. C'mon, I make dinner 'most every night. It's not that interesting. Really.

-not an excerpt of the fam's silly and outrageous daily conversations. They require way too much background explanation, as their layers of innuendo are thick. Rich, but really thick. Sorta like whipped cream on a brownie. But thicker.

-not a few photos of what I bought at the mall today. Brown clogs, even when spanking new, are useful but not that riveting. The suede jacket I snagged for ten buckeroos will show up on #1 Daughter closer to April, and then she can tell you all about it.

-not the latest tally of how many times Friend #7 has beat me in Scrabble. It's not even funny anymore.

-not a list of what I'm reading. These days, my reading consists of keeping one step ahead of my students. (Whoa: I did peruse a way cool magazine while drinking coffee at Scoopucchino's yesterday. Maybe I'll subscribe.)

-not a description of this mid-January weather. It's just there.

With any luck, inspiration will blindside me soon enough. Thanks for bearing with me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

still life

This bowl of fruit is not long for this world. Beauty has its way of moving on, except someone paints it, writes about it, or takes its picture.

Applesauce is on tonight's menu at Chez Nancy, and the fruit in that divinely altered state won't last long, either. (Not around these parts!) After partaking of bowls of warm-from-the-pot applesauce at her house a few weeks ago, we were reminded of its simple pleasure.

May your day be filled to the brim with the simple stuff.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

the frugal gourmet

morning exercise: a brisk episode called "chase the recycling bins", brought to us by winds gusty enough to whip your socks off.
breakfast: "real" hot chocolate with marshmallows
read-aloud: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Now that I have set the tone for the day, let me rhapsodize over a new recipe: Chicken Curry with Cashews and Sweet Potato. (I more than doubled the recipe, as I had a 5 lb roasting chicken on hand.) This is swoon-material, folks. We consumed it over bowls of steaming rice and chased its fiery heat with sliced fruit and yogurt. As a bonus, our kitchen exuded that exotic and pungent aroma of an East Indian bazaar. It was quite inexpensive to make, as the meat was 69 cents/lb and the sweet potatoes were 39 cents/lb. Prices like those help soften the blow of 7.99/lb for cashews!

Chicken Curry with Cashews and Sweet Potato Recipe

Interesting Notes

I like to make Indian food and try to get my friends to try it. Some of them are put off by the long lists of ingredients, and so I came up with a simple way to make a rich-tasting curry.


  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 Tablespoons sweet curry powder
  • 1/2 cup unsalted cashew pieces
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (can substitute a small serrano pepper)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced into pieces
  • 1 medium sweet potato, sliced

Serves / Yields

1 1/2 Quarts

Preparation Instructions

In a large saucepan heat the oil until it is hot, and add the cashews. Let the cashews cook for about a minute, but do not let them brown. Add the curry powder, and cook in the oil with the cashews for another minute. Then, add the onions and jalapeño pepper. Reduce heat and let simmer until the onion is translucent.

Reduce the heat to low, and add the diced tomatoes, salt, water, yogurt and chicken breast.. As the mixture warms, stir regularly, until the yogurt and tomatoes blend. Increase the heat a bit, and add the sliced sweet potato. Continue to heat until the sauce starts to bubble, and then let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the curry to rest a few minutes before serving.

Serve over rice – basmati works well, as does coconut rice.

Helpful Hints

For a milder curry, cut the jalapeño pepper into coarse pieces and remove from the mixture before adding the tomatoes, water, yogurt, etc. If possible, soak the sweet potato in cold water for about 20 minutes before slicing—this will allow it to rehydrate a bit, and not absorb the water in the curry. If possible, make the curry a day in advance, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, the flavors will have blended a bit.

Monday, January 07, 2008

onward Christian scholars

the tools of the trade are strewn across the coffee table.

this is what our chalkboard looks like. "practice v" refers to #1 Son's and his violin. The "Experiment with potato" isn't a free-for-all. They actually have to follow the Biology textbook instructions. (Not an atypical reaction from student: "Ohhh....! I thought you meant that all we had to do was experiment with one.")
a happy student exuding waves of enthusiasm over his textbooks.

the joy of learning personified. (Hey! Home-schooled kids get to sit Indian-style.)

The Hull Homeschool Academy started off with a muffled bang this morning. Last week was (what the industry refers to as) "a wash" in the School of Formal Learning, considering the whole student body (population:2) was recovering from an intestinal bug of some sort. Also, the schoolmarm took a personal day to drive Friend #12 to the Syracuse airport. Also: Hubby requested the school body put in a full day of work at his jobsite. Also: the first CFA ski trip was on Friday. Does this sound familiar to any of you devoted home-schooling moms?

I fret not over a week like that because I know the learning curve still rises, by the grace of God. Nevertheless, I ascended the proverbial grandstand and announced with great flourish last evening:
"Everybody had better be ready for school at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning. AND have a cheerful attitude about learning."
They nodded courteously in my general direction, as to an unnecessary policeman directing traffic under a stoplight. They know when mom means business.

File this post under the topic of "self-satisfaction". I even documented our morning with a few photos, as undeniable proof of the roller-coaster thrill of learning that my students experience on a regular basis.
Long Live Home-schooled Kids.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

my notepad

Have you ever doled out advice only to wonder afterward if it was good? I have.

Fifteen minutes is a very short segment of time in which to hear of a situation, weigh the options, convey compassion and understanding, and then follow it up with good old-fashioned advice. A fifteen minute phone call every Sunday evening is our precious window of conversational opportunity. Fifteen minutes, I say, in which to download a week's worth of happenings and then to project a dose of faith into the week ahead. The up-side of a meager time limit is this: brevity, clarity, pointedness, and straight-shooting are your friends. Impact is one's aim. Only a hot-line to heaven can guarantee sound results.
--That, and purified love for the dear person on the receiving end.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

A law that could punish love? Joy? Kindness or goodness? There is no such law; nor could there ever be. In the darkest dungeon, in the direst of straits, in the throws of our bleakest hour when every last shred of freedom has been stripped from us, God has declared that we are free to practice these amazing qualities.

So, what is hindering us from cranking out large, over-sized quantities of spiritual fruit? There should be, by all rights, a veritable vat of fruit salad on the kitchen table available to whosoever will have it, night and day. I mean, look at that list! What is there not to love? And HOW CAN I GET THAT GOODNESS INTO ME?
A new year is mine. I resolve, by the grace of God, to produce more fruit. How 'bout you?


Friend #7 wants to play Scrabble. She has opened the box and arranged the board on the coffee table on which I rest my feet. I watch her warily over the glowing screen of my laptop. She looks not unlike a spider eyeing a fly. Having whupped me soundly the last three (3) games, I waffle in my decision to enter her lair. We take Scrabble seriously around here.
What would Jesus do? He would graciously play a killer-game and then let the opponent win in the end. That would be patience, kindness, and goodness all rolled into one.
*edit* Actually, I did win. It was GOOD of me to play with her, KIND 0f me to only win by 4 points. The PATIENCE is a given, seeing how long she took to lay down her tiles. See? Fruit everywhere....

Saturday, January 05, 2008

winter treasure

This poem has been stashed away while I awaited the approach of the dead of winter. Today, while Friend #7 and I were walking (treading slush, really) in the almost-balmy winter air, I spotted a rickety apple tree in a field and remembered this little treasure. It was not written by me, but by a 95 year old woman who published her first poem when she was in her eighties. How inspiring is that? Enjoy.

Another Sarah

by anne porter

When winter was half over
God sent three angels to the apple-tree
Who said to her
"Be glad, you little rack
Of empty sticks,
Because you have been chosen.

In May you will become
A wave of living sweetness
A nation of white petals
A dynasty of apples

Friday, January 04, 2008

olfactory override

Olive oil from Spain, it said on the tin can.

As I drizzled it sparingly onto the metal baking sheet, its thin green stream lolling luxuriously from the spout, the scent of olives came up to me. It brought with it hills and castles, burnt umber paths of farrowed dirt, splayed wooden rakes and carts of sheared branches, and sea-green clouds of foliage hovering over their biblical and twisted stocks: rows and rows of them, winding from the crest of the sky to the sunken valley floor, wreathing huts and sheds and stuccoed houses with Moorish hordes cloaked in dusty gray-green.

A road trip from the mountains of Toledo to the southern-most tip of Spain will run you about six hours. During those hours, if daylight is on your side, you will behold not much else besides olive groves. Groves, a few sleepy villages, and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Make that trip in March or April, and you will observe the farmers pruning their orchards. Damp, smudgy fires dot the rows where heaps of olive branches smolder, releasing their acrid perfume into the air. There is no escaping the smell, even if you roll up your windows and bury your nose in travel guides. If one were to prepare to sautee an onion but left the room to answer the phone and got caught up in conversation and came back ten minutes later to a smoking pan of olive oil, one would know the smell I remember all along the road to Southern Spain.

My favorite family is well acquainted with my gastronomical cravings. (Namely: gourmet cheese, fresh herbs, fresh berries, real cream, vine-ripened tomatoes, anything from a real bakery, olives, and a few dozen other things that will make your mouth water.) Wasn't it thoughtful of them to gift me with some imported EVOO so I could bake them good things to eat? The mental trip to Southern Spain was merely a bonus for a person like me who possesses a vivid memory, imagination, and keen sense of smell.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

the New Year storms in

Clearing the way

an elegant masquerade

black & white and ready to go

people in the living room

armchair travelers


We greeted the New Year with a favorite bunch: the Smith family. No fancy-schmancy hullabaloo; just the last five minutes of Times Square on TV, a few wooden spoons hitting tin pans, a swig of bubbly ginger ale, and an informal prayer session. The little boys thought it was something special.
While the girls masqueraded at the mad New Year's Eve party in Madrid, we unrolled sleeping bags and got some shut-eye. While we dozed, a festival of snow crept over the landscape, draping mailboxes and branches with furry mantles, knitting its frosty yarn around tree trunks and light poles, and sequestering us in our 19th century brick farmhouse with a refrigerator full of food. I couldn't have asked for a sweeter and more hilarious family to hole up with us.
Happy New Year to all my family and friends.