Monday, March 31, 2008

a short one-sided conversation

-our copy of A Midsummer's Night Dream has disappeared. Maybe the faeries are hiding it. Those pesky little imps!

-We have to make three (3) trips into town today. One trip to get groceries and drop off a computer. Another trip to the orthodontist and pick up the computer. And ONE MORE to choir rehearsal tonight. I will also be picking up a stack of music at the college while I'm there. Even with multi-tasking on each trip, there was no way to whittle down our mileage any further.

-Gas is so expensive!
-Groceries are so expensive!

-Reading the Bible is free. So is writing a letter to a dear friend. (Even more so if you can e-mail it!)
-Kindness is free, too.

-The birds were not happy about this morning's snowfall, and I don't blame them. No place to perch when everything is covered with slippery snow! Despite their dismay, they were singing to beat the band when I stepped outside this morning.

I want to be like that.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

downloading some recent pics

Yummy things are going on in the kitchen this morning, courtesy of company arriving for dinner. And also courtesy of the fact that I needed to clean out the vegetable drawer.

We chopped willy-nilly and look what came together:

To fresh cauliflower, broccoli, grape tomatoes, and shredded carrot, we added a dressing of Newman's Own Sesame Ginger (the best) and a few tablespoons of tahini. Then I tossed in a cup of bulgur wheat and called it Asian Salad.

Well, what else could you call it?

In another kitchen on another day, this guy rolled me some sushi. I had my choice: tuna or hot dog.

I chose tuna.
Surely you have heard of Second Breakfast?
This was my Second Lunch. It empowered me to help with this:

Peach with Marshmallow trim. So regal and serene!
It is almost a shame that furniture and carpet have to be moved in, as they may interfere with the atmosphere.
That's a grand piano under the sheet.

We could unveil THAT and it wouldn't disturb the vibe.

Friday, March 28, 2008

remodeling update

Every now and then, a friend or family member asks me:

"So, how is the remodeling going in Madrid?"

They are referring to our real estate investment in the tiny little town where we attend church. Last summer, we purchased 6 properties: 5 houses and a post-and-beam barn. They are within view of each other, all centered around the village square. (Or what one might suppose WAS the village square, because it doesn't boast of much. Only a little flower bed near a parking lot that the townspeople decorate with a "memory-tree" at Christmas time and a bed of petunias in the summer.)

Three of our houses are perched precariously on a hillside that slopes down to the Grasse River. when I say say "precarious", I mean it.

Two of the houses are next to the town laundry-mat, which gets fair business because many of the apartment-dwellers here don't own their own washing machines.

That tells ya something.

Here are some pics of the gutting of 3 River:

view of that "town square" from the upstairs window:
Hubby and Friend #37. What Dudes.

One final note of interest: this building dates back to the early 1800's. It was some kind of store, as evidenced by the old pressed-tin interior. I want to save it, but Hubby says it's junk.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

quarterly reports

This time, I am only a little bit late in submitting our quarterly reports.

What are quarterly reports, you ask? They are a law-abiding homeschooling mom's nod to the New York State Board of Education's requirements. According to the powers that be in our fair state, each academic year must be 180 days of instruction consisting of 5 hours of class per day. Broken down into smaller segments, it translates into 4 quarters consisting of 9 weeks each (36 weeks total). The other 16 weeks of the year, no-one is required to learn anything; just watch T.V. and play video games, I guess.

Just kidding.
(Gotta watch the sarcasm here, this is a public space.)

At the end of those nine weeks, we submit a report to the local school district detailing our progress in the proposed curriculum we submitted last summer. Many of our friends and relatives are curious about how homeschooling parents choose their curriculum. There are many- and I mean many- educational choices available. It can be overwhelming for the novice!

One of the best ways to narrow things down is to talk to veteran homeschooling parents. I have a friend who is a walking-talking encyclopedia about such matters! She also has a degree in education. A quick call (or long call) to her will usually help me sort things out. She understands that a parent knows their own child better than any sales rep, and armed with that knowledge, is best equipped to find the material to engage him or her.

I always take a ream of notes on her recommendations and then go online to see what the products look like and, just as relevant, what they cost. Sometimes the less-expensive curriculum will do the job just as well. And then again, you can always explore buying a used copy or borrowing it from another family. I'm a huge fan of that!

Our local homeschooling community is a great support to me. Our homeschooling institution, Christian Fellowship Academy, provides guidelines for our requirements and all kinds of extras. (such as choir, gym, public speaking, art, and even a real yearbook!)

Last year,after three years of using a literature-based curriculum, which uses various historical novels and such instead of big fat textbooks, I made the big leap. We went off the grid---which is backwoods-talk for generating our own power. What I mean is this: I picked our history/literature/social studies topics myself! And then went to task finding the books to illumine us all about them.

It was a scary, daring, out-of-the-box, and crazy experiment. How did we fare, you ask?

We learned a lot about local history, the Underground Railroad, and our old farmhouse. Then we dove into the mysterious Middle East and learned all about Persia, the birth of Islam, ancient Egypt, the birth of modern Israel, Islamic art and architecture, way-cool cuisine, and much much more.

Our year was as satisfying as a big ol' slice of grandma's apple pie.

So we are trying it again this year with British Literature. I can tell you this much: I am getting smart from all this high-brow reading! And imagine this: my two teens are enjoying the journey even though mom is along for the entire ride. That's golden.

(Don't be unduly impressed. I stuck like a burr to math and science textbooks. This mom is only brave about certain things.)

Anyway, I'm not trying to impress anyone. Just sending out a holler to the clear blue sky that YOU CAN TEACH YOUR OWN CHILDREN in the State of New York. And HAVE A BLAST DOING SO. AND ALSO LEARN INCREDIBLE THINGS.

You just gotta fill out these infernal forms every now and then.
That's all.

Monday, March 24, 2008

the sweetest sabbath

Easter candles have burned low.

Hymnals wait in a shaft of late-day sun to be shelved until next time.

Leftovers from Easter dinner are transformed into a casserole of deliciousness.

Who stomped on the easter eggs????

Easter Dinner-2008

Just a few family members.
Of course, Friend #7.
And a music student who didn't go home for spring break.
And Ira. (my kids were over the moon....)
Add to this a friend from church who didn't have any special dinner-plans.

After dinner, enter:
the Smith Family (minus Mr.)
three college guys (thanks, Friend #7)
and maybe more. I began to lose count.

After dessert, a hymn sing.
(Christmas carols receive weeks of air-time. No fair. Let those rollicking Resurrection Hymns rumble, I say.) We sang and sang until our repertoire was thoroughly ransacked.

The day after Easter is catch-up day.
We sent off overnight guests with bagged sandwiches, a few jars of pickles, freshly-washed casserole dishes, and farewell wishes.
Bleary-eyed, we tackled laundry, school-work, and vacuuming.
We ate leftovers. (Three roasted chickens are reduced to one fairly-sized pie.)

Tempered by the long shadows of evening, the day after this special Sabbath winds down to a sweet shuffle.

It was a beautiful Easter season.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

tenebrae service

What is a tenebrae service?

"The word ‘tenebrae’ is Latin for shadows. The purpose of the Tenebrae service is to recreate the emotional aspects of the passion story, so this is not supposed to be a happy service, because the occasion is not happy. If your expectation of Christian worship is that it should always be happy and exhilarating, you won’t appreciate this service until the second time you attend it.

The service was originally designed for Good Friday, but it can be used for Maundy Thursday as well. Both services have long scripture narratives, which for this service are divided into seven, eight, or nine parts, each one assigned to a different reader.

The service may include other parts, such as solemn hymns, a sermon, and Communion, but the core of the Tenebrae service works like this: It starts out with the church in candlelight. There are as many candles as there are readings, plus a white Christ candle. The readers go up one at a time, read their assigned selections, and extinguish one of the candles, until only the Christ candle remains. Then someone reads the first part of Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted on the cross. Then the Christ candle is put out, leaving the congregation in near total darkness—and near total devastation. At this point, the service ends. There is no benediction and the people leave in silence. (The lights are turned up but remain dim so that people can see their way out.)

The purpose of the service is to recreate the betrayal, abandonment, and agony of the events, and it is left unfinished, because the story isn’t over until Easter Day."

We practice His presence noisily because the din is a comfort to our awkward selves. Nesting within our own skins, our stark souls crouch, warped and bent by the weight of life and all its sundry griefs. To counter this, we clamor for happy voices and worship choruses; they nurse our wounds. They spell us from the cheap cloth which cloaks our nakedness.

Last evening, we had none of it.

We dressed in dark, sombre clothes. As a member of the cobbled-together choir, I had the added accessory of a black music folder. I clutched it to my chest firmly, possessively, like I would a favorite doll.

As the scriptures were intoned, the candles, one by one, were extinguished. Darkness fell piecemeal, incrementally. Like dusty organ pipes, our throats opened to the dark air and spilled out the old hymns, line upon line. The comfort of familiar faces, my friendly congregation, was now sunk in caverns of burnt umber.

O Sacred Head now wounded.

When the one candle was borne and we filed behind its wee light, a voice rose over the blackness. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

I was,
nudged my soul.
I was there in all my badness, all my selfishness and all my depleted tries at goodness.
By the power and breadth of His eternal Mind, He thought of me there, while pain wracked His earthly tent.

He cried, It is finished.
And it was done for all time.

Thank you for the cross, my Friend.

Friday, March 21, 2008


We're working on it, and it is by no means complete.
--the new clothes for this blog, that is.

#1 Son introduced it while it was still half-dressed, the experiment with the hair and make-up in its infant stages, and the back-drop under inquiry. But we're working on it. We are.

I sincerely hope that I don't rue this experiment as much as I do the other one I started this week. This one took place in my kitchen.
After much thought (and also a bout of spring fever), I decided to revolutionize the kitchen colors. Everything that was Geranium Red, which included one cabinet and four doors, was going to get a make-over. I was feeling brave.

As the Robin's Egg Blue went on slap-dash, it drew gasps from the card-players at the table last night. This is an opinionated crew, I'll say. And they don't mince words.
"It looks like a toy kitchen"
"I feel like we're in a cartoon."
"It reminds me of the nursery in Grandma Janet's old church."
-and the clincher from Hubby:
"It's '1957'. They used to make a Chevy in that color."

That was it.
This morning, we delved into the cellar and found the Geranium Red with the rusted lid. I busied myself with the very same paintbrush, undoing the deed that was done the evening before. So satisfying to bury 1957 under that luscious red that we all loved!

The red paint streaked and clumped. It some places it dribbled. In others, it stuck. The more I tried to rectify matters, the worse things became. Attempts at swiping away the whole kit-and-kaboodle with a damp cloth sealed my fate. Well, at least this cabinet's fate.

We'll call it an antique now--an antique with tiny wisps of blue-green peeking from the edges.

Which brings me back to this site.
With my hair in pink curlers, my face covered in oatmeal-paste, and my false teeth in a glass by the sink (this is all proverbial, people!), may I ask that you bear with me?

I'll look pretty real soon.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

first-day-of-spring activity!

Bird's Nests

1 box original unfrosted shredded wheat
2 packages semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 bags malted-milk eggs

Crumble 4 pre-packaged shredded wheat bars into a large mixing bowl. Melt the chocolate in a saucepan over low heat and pour over wheat. Mix thoroughly with a spoon or with your hands after it starts to cool.
Form bird's nests by hand (messy!) and indent with the back of a spoon for the eggs. Place a few malted eggs in the indentation.
Leave at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours to set.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

friends over for dinner

I am thinking about tonight's menu.

Tonight, we are hosting a dear young couple for dinner and hang-out time. They are not considered newlyweds by us anymore, especially since they are expecting twin boys in the near future!
They need a number. I hereby dub them Friend #2+2a and Friend #2+2b. (I am feeling clever today.)

Appetizer: Sweet Potato Fries and Mango-Cucumber Salsa
Main Course: Lemon Chicken Cutlets
Cheese-Asparagus Quiche
Caesar Salad with Home-made Croutons
Dessert: Fruit
oh, and Bird's-Nests.

I'll explain that last bit later, after we make them.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


For all those who have inquired, #! Son played beautifully this weekend. Thanks for asking!
He learned valuable lessons from each of the three performances with the orchestra.

As for this mom, she is relieved all the hubbub is behind us. Because, although she rarely gets nervous while on-stage, she was a bundle of nerves sitting in the audience!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

going green

The inability to pinpoint a single lucid thought for posting-purposes has led me to this.
This: strolling around the house this morning, taking pictures of things that are green.

For goodness sakes, I'm not even remotely Irish.
Just longing for green.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

the kids of #112a and #112b

Yesterday, we made our own play-dough.

While it was still warm from the saucepan, we added food coloring and kneaded it with gusto.
#1 Daughter and I divvied this glorious stuff up between three sweet kiddies. Then we all made snakes and snowmen and whole families of duckies and butterflies. This simple bowl of dough entertained the troops for much longer than I expected.

The grand finale was this pizza, complete with "pepperoni" and "green peppers".
What a relaxing way to spend the afternoon!

I must add this:
What I don't know about the Star Wars Trilogy could fill the cargo hatches of a fleet of intergalactic space vehicles. (See? I don't even know the correct terms to display my ignorance.)
But the eldest child of Friends #112a and #112b has enlightened me. Somewhat. At least now I know how much I don't know.

I found this video online though, and I think it helped me get a handle on the whole thing. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

a letter to winter

(to be placed under the bucket of salt on the front steps)

Dear Winter:

We invited you in when we were feeling adventurous and now we have second thoughts.

Back in November, the sights, sounds and scents of autumn had ceased to soothe us, and her beauty grew tiresome. Our decorative pumpkins had braved the hard frost and it was high time to chuck them. Somewhere. (Does anyone else besides me stand in their backyard with a truckload of deteriorating gourds and consider where to toss them?)
You beckoned us with childhood memories and with Currier & Ives prints of pristine snowfalls and of horse-drawn sledges coasting to grandma's house. (Like we ever get to do that.) And like mesmerized kindergarteners following the candy truck, we fell for you hook, line and sinker.

When your frosted chill became brazen enough to withstand the morning sun and finally worked its way into neglected leaf-piles and under our summer-weight quilts, we gave up our allegiance to fall and voted for you. Winter all the way, we said. Then we hunkered down with mugs of steaming beverages and watched for snow from our kitchen window with child-like anticipation.

Dolts, we were.

For we knew it would come to this; we know the fickleness of the pack we run with. Along about this time, Winter, we are sorry we issued the invitation. What once entertained us now infuriates us. Enough is enough, we say to each other and to shopkeepers and to librarians and to the weather-people on TV who can't even hear us.
Enough is enough is enough.

Dear Winter: you have had your say and it's been lovely and all. But in all politeness, may we show you to the door? Things are strained between us--way too strained to sort it out.
We promise you this: if you'll be on your way cheerfully and without remorse, we will still like you. After we hang out with our other friends (namely, Spring, Summer and Fall) for awhile, we will invite you back.

Oh, and---please shut the door on your way out. Thanks.

Friday, March 07, 2008

growing pains

He departed this afternoon for Long Island, this #1 Son of mine.

After Friday School, we came home so he could pack. We decided that it would be easier if he drove himself (in his "new" vehicle) to the Sinclair's. He could then leave his car there for the weekend and drive himself home when they return on Tuesday.

I watched him from the living room window as he stowed his suitcase, backpack, and violin in the back seat. Then this son of mine hopped confidently into the driver's seat and backed out of the drive. He waved because he knew I was watching, and off he went.

Over his action-packed weekend, he will do his thing; the thing that involves acoustics and wires and microphones and sound-checks and "lows" and "mids" and so many more things which his mom is clueless about. He may go into the city to meet influential people. He will bond with his cool friends and with a family that I, personally, never tire of. And all this will happen many miles away from me, his mom, who has always made sure he eats his greens, and substitutes whole-wheat for white whenever possible.


This is all too new to me--the grown-up-ness of it all. It strikes me just as they said it would: with surprising swiftness. This week brought its share of big-boy milestones, including taking the SAT's and getting his driver's license. There seems to be little mercy in this swift march of time, and no breathers betwixt my oldest and his coming of age. (Did I mention that he drove away at the wheel of his own car? I did, didn't I?)

This is entirely too much at once for this hands-on mom.

These days, I dose myself regularly (okay, hourly...) with the sage advice from Friend #7. She said,
"Don't micro-manage so much. Let more things go. You must learn that your kids are growing up." (She must have read that somewhere because what does she know, anyway?)

After dropping the darlings off at Friday School this morning, I parked the car but kept the radio on. I waited for the scheduled broadcast of #1 Son's interview for his upcoming performance with the local orchestra. I expected his oh-so-grown-up voice to come over the airwaves, telling about his love for music and why he was drawn to the violin so many years ago. Shimmering runs and double-stops would provide the backdrop for Mr. Radio-Host's questions about "life's goals" and such.

I knew that.

But what I didn't know was the effect it would have on me.

Because standing back and letting go are unfamiliar territories; uncharted and scary regions on ancient maps that are marked "beyond here be dragons".
They are a strange dish-- the kind of thing that I thought I would taste one day on my own terms. When I was ready. When I was hungry for it.
Standing back and letting go are new clothes that don't feel right. They pinch in weird places and make me want to settle for last year's Easter outfit. They are entirely wrong for me and are not at all flattering.

They cost too much, too.

He departed this morning for Long Island. And of course, after all that, he will come home.
But soon, much sooner than I would wish, he will depart for other places with other people in other cars and with bigger suitcases. I won't always be standing at the window.
And before I know it, standing back and letting go will feel more at home on my shoulders. I will dip my toe into them more often and the water won't make me draw back as much. I will taste them oftener, and with a little bread and butter, they will go down just fine.

And even though these thoughts may sound sad, they are really faith-filled.
I'm just thinkin' 'bout them, is all.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

not quite a poem about sugar-cookies

From my jumbled collection of cookie-cutters, I select a diamond, a little sheep,
and a daisy.

I dust the counter-top, sink my palms into the coolness of moist dough,
and feel the buttery mound of goodness fall into a disk beneath my wooden pin.

I place and press, lift with practiced hand, slide onto shining sheets of metal,
and -accompanied by the squeak of my oven door- shuffle my wares into the undulating
and eyelash-singeing heat.
They bake.

When they have cooled, they will be slathered with frosting, dotted with candied jewels
and arranged on a platter.

diamonds and sheep and daisies. Sweetly dressed
and ready for munching.

Monday, March 03, 2008

putting a face to a name

Famous paintings and engravings of the great master of counterpoint won't be enough anymore.
Now we have this.

What can I say? I think it is very very cool.

aunt kitty dials my number

dear aunt kit:

your phone call to me yesterday was like hot chocolate with whipped cream.

no, wait.

like a walk down a garden path in spring
with all the violets in bloom
while a fine misty rain is departing.


akin to finding my favorite book, first edition
mint condition
at a garage sale
for a dollar.

no, wait.
FREE for the asking.

that's what your phone call was like for me