Thursday, December 25, 2008

Space Travel

We're on board our flight to CA, and the little boy boarding ahead of us gave us cause to smile.

Boy: We're getting on the spaceship now!
Dad: No, remember where we are?
Boy (dutifully): We're at the airport. We're at the airport and...we're about to get on the spaceship!

Flight Plan

Tickets to California for Christmas: $1,000.00
Checked bags: $30.00
Drink of water on flight: $2.00 (thanks, I'll pass)
Arriving in Phoenix in time to make our connection to Sacramento: nope.
Lunch in airport: $20.00 (do you take coupons?)
We'll get to Sacramento eventually... spending Christmas with family: priceless, of course!

Thanks, U.S. Airways.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Procrastination Blogging

A few weeks ago Nathan and I had the following conversation:

FavoriteBoy: Should we send out Christmas cards?
SarahMarie: Too late.
FavoriteBoy: What do you mean? We still have a few weeks before Christmas.
SarahMarie: No, I mean you're two years too late. If you wanted to send out Christmas cards you would have had to marry the Christmas-card-sending type of girl.

This conversation reflects the sad fact that I never seem to get ready for Christmas in time.

We're down to the wire: in about two hours I leave to play my violin at two consecutive church services: one evening service in Dover and one midnight mass in Peabody. Nathan will be off to play organ at his own church service. Immediately after midnight mass, it's off to the airport to await our early-morning flight out to California to spend Christmas with my family. I'm really excited, but I can't figure out why it is that, no matter how far ahead I try to prepare, I'm never ready for Christmas and I'm never ready for travel. I began making Christmas gifts back in October, but then November and December were filled with holiday concerts, teaching, and student concerts - not to mention a lot of busyness surrounding a house-hunting process that Nathan and I embarked on a few months ago. Somehow a few of those Christmas gifts are still unfinished, and here it is Christmas Eve.

Our suitcases are only half-way packed and our apartment is more than half-way messy. I love the end result of travel - getting to see family - but the process of preparation is so stressful.

I wish we could travel by quantum leap.

Christmas Eve

The church where Nathan is employed, and where I usually attend, has instituted a new event in the past two years: a separate Christmas Eve service for families with children.

What? Why?

Because children can be distracting to those around them.

Children are sweet blessings to any family and to the church family as well! What if we allowed their small, occasional whispers or rare cries to point us toward the baby Jesus, fully God yet fully human, a helpless, noisy babe - his birth most likely not a "silent night," much as I love that carol. What if we allowed their "disruptions," when such noises occur, to remind us of the man whose coming we celebrate, who said, "Let the little children come unto me... for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

What about that?

But the children can't understand the service, so they need a separate one of their own where adults who consider themselves "good with children" can talk down to the young ones.

Can't they understand? Do they really need a separate service? Can't six- and seven-year-olds sing Once in Royal David's City? Weren't the words, after all, written for little children? Do they not know the words to O Come, All Ye Faithful and Silent Night; can they not sing alongside their parents? Can they listen to a brief message (as all Christmas Eve messages should be)? After all, if any service ever should be accessible to children, shouldn't it be this special Eve on which we remember the coming of a Baby? Speak your theology throughout the year, by all means. If your sermons must be too long or a bit dull, we will listen patiently. But on this one night, let the children come. Let the church be all present at once. Let the families be together to worship Christ, the Infant King.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Protestants are weird. I think so, even though I am one (albeit sometimes begrudgingly). During the season of Advent, a recent trend I've noticed among Protestant churches is to focus on the aspects of Mary that made her historically unremarkable rather than those things that made her so very, very remarkable. Since we dare not saying anything resembling Hail Mary, we speak not of the fact that she was, undeniably, a vessel filled with God's grace. We do not mention that she was blessed, and that Jesus, the fruit of her womb, is to be blessed. The intercession of the saints as implied by the final lines of the Ave Maria is another matter - it is not surprising to me that Catholics and Protestants should disagree on this matter.

What does surprise me is the fact that every Protestant service I've attended during Advent the past few years, whether a church service or an Evangelical musical/theatrical event, has chosen to focus on the most normal aspects of the blessed virgin who was chosen by God to be the mother of Christ. Her pain in childbirth is a popular focus, or that the circumstances of her labor and delivery were far from ideal, making her physical situation that much worse. Of course, I've never heard of a woman whose childbirth experience was free of discomfort (even before the fall labor cannot have been comfortable; God tells Eve that He will multiply her pains in childbirth, not create them where there were none before). And while birth in a barn is indeed unusual, sanitation was likely not the strong point of any culture 2000 years ago. Protestants make much of Mary's emotional distress, creating a great conflict and even misery within her and pretending we can know this was a historical reality - lest we come near to the Catholic belief of Immaculate Conception, I suppose. The Bible, of course, tells us a story of a soul magnifying the Lord and a spirit rejoicing in the might and mercy of the Lord. A humble woman filled with amazement and joy that God had seen fit for her to be the mother of the Messiah.

In speaking of the unremarkable things about Mary, I think it should be in this context: How strange that God chose the humble and ordinary as His entrance point into the universe - and in doing so, made it extraordinary. We don't need to make much of the mundane or pretend it was incredible; it was the very normalcy of it that should make our heads spin.

Why do Protestants feel the need to focus on the unremarkable rather than the remarkable? Why must words be changed, history perhaps even altered - to make people feel more comfortable? Are we afraid of this great mystery, afraid of things we cannot explain or understand in human terms?

I find myself wondering... what's so wrong with saying simply,

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
for thou hast borne Christ the Savior,
the Deliverer of our souls.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I came up with a clever way of teaching the Allegretto in Suzuki Volume 1. It involves soldiers with shovels marching in mincing steps ("Step-Step-STOMP"), digging holes, and then filling in the holes as they go. Then a group of graceful ballerinas enter the scene, also bearing shovels! ("How silly! I hope they don't get their pink tutus dirty!") The legato ballerinas dig several holes and fill them in, dig an invisible hole, and then dig an extra-big hole and leave it un-filled. They exit the scene and the marching soldiers with shovels return to bring the piece to a close.

The best thing about my clever method is that it's working - I have three students who are around this spot in Book 1 right now, and they are laughing, enjoying the song, and remembering every note and articulation!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Advent Joy and Responsibility

Our church sets aside some time in the service each week in December for the lighting of the Advent candle. They've been using readings that were years old and not particularly fabulous, so Nathan volunteered to come up with some new ones. Last week he was stumped, so it fell to me to write the reading and prayer concerning joy. This is what I came up with, compiled from a few prayer books and my own head:


Leader: The prophet Isaiah foretold,

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
(Isaiah 35:10)

As people awaited the coming of the Messiah, they looked forward to the hope, peace, and joy He would bring. The "good news of great joy" that the angels sang when Jesus was born in Bethlehem was for all people, and still brings us joy today. Our joy is in knowing what God has done and what He has promised to do; our joy is in knowing Jesus, the Messiah, and awaiting His promised return.

The Third Candle is Lit

Congregation: "Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and praise." (Psalm 95:1)

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful to Your promises and ever close to Your Church: the earth rejoices in the hope of the Savior's coming and looks forward to the everlasting peace His return will bring. Fix our minds upon those things You have done and upon Your promises for the future, so that we may enter into the joy You have promised. Help us to live joyfully so that others may know the hope that comes from Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I spent so much time making sure each word was meaningful, incorporating the previous Advent themes of hope and peace, drawing attention both to the prophecies of the past and to the future return of the Messiah, and trying my best to make sure the congregation would be edified and uplifted by these small considerations of the joy we have in Jesus Christ. After all that work, the readings and prayer were over in mere minutes on Sunday, and I doubt anyone noticed the small things I had pondered so carefully. I think this is true for the majority of church-goers and services; we all miss a lot of the carefully-thought-out details and the meaning therein.

We had our Lessons and Carols service Sunday night, and afterwards a nice man from the congregation approached Nathan and asked, "Did you choose that last hymn? I liked it and it seemed like it might have been your choice." Nathan replied, "Yes, I did," but in fact, he had spent days carefully planning the entire service, selecting hymns and carols; putting together and rehearsing a choral ensemble to sing; arranging the hymns and writing parts for trumpet, horns, and trombones; selecting soloists; and choosing readers for the lessons. He made the bulletin as well, formatted it, had me proofread it, and then ran off copies for the congregation, which he and I folded and stuffed together.

It's interesting how many things we take for granted, never stopping to consider who is behind it all or how many hours of work, planning, and careful thought go into our worship services. I have an insider's viewpoint, being married to a man who spends so much time attempting to facilitate meaningful worship for our church (and often being drawn into that process myself). It's a very big responsibility - kind of frightening. When I saw the Advent bit I had written in print, it seemed like heavy stuff to have had some small part in creating something that would be read and prayed by so many.

Any small role in shepherding a flock of Jesus's lambs is a serious thing.

Millstones, indeed.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Cookies

If you like gingerbread cookies, you need to go make this recipe right now, just to see the cool reaction that happens when you add the baking soda!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

This Week at Walgreens

Walgreens is the place to shop for the next few days! Today through the 13th they are offering $5 Register Rewards on every $25 purchase. The Register Rewards will print based on pre-coupon prices, so this is a great deal. This morning in two transactions I got $81.44 worth of stuff:

That's twelve rolls of Scotch tape (each three-pack was $0.50), two jugs of laundry detergent (at $0.99 each!), 4 cans of shaving cream, two Sure deodorants (both free after coupons), two Phisoderm body washes (each one had a $2 off peelie coupon on the front), one Colgate toothpaste (free after coupons), four Maybelline lip glosses, and one $0.99 nail file as a filler item to bring my balance on my second transaction to a positive number.

My total out of pocket expense for both transactions was $4.59, and I got back $10 (two $5 Register Rewards - one for each transaction). I can also get a $2 rebate for the Scotch tape if I get around to doing it, which I should.

The cashier who rang me up was super nice and once again confirmed what I've been learning, which is that most cashiers love to see shoppers get a good deal. She practically squealed when I paid $0.46 for my second transaction and then got $5 in RRs back. She even called over a friend from the cosmetic department to see what great deals I had gotten, and told her friend, "This girl is a good shopper. She's so smart! I wish I could get deals like this."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


It's been a really good week so far. On Sunday the children's orchestra I conduct had their winter concert. The kids played so well, with a nice sound and mostly good intonation. Best of all, they demonstrated wonderful attention to the music and to their conductor! Before the concert I had spent some time preparing them for the stage and the distractions that would inevitably be awaiting them. I even told them, "Your parents might misbehave and try to wave and get your attention, but you have to ignore them and stay focused, and tell them later not to distract you when you're performing!" When they took their seats on the stage I was so proud to see those eyes right on me, following my cues for entrances, dynamics, ritardandos, and endings! We even had one major distraction - a disabled child in the audience began laughing uproariously just before we started the last piece, an arrangement of the 1812 Overture. The kids were obviously startled by the noise but did a great job staying composed. The concert went very well and I was so proud of those little kids.

Yesterday morning I ran my fastest mile time yet - probably because the 17-degree weather was a real incentive to get back home as quickly as possible.

Later that morning I went to Shaw's to take advantage of some coupons and deals and prepare for some holiday entertaining. I bought some things I wouldn't normally buy because I'm getting ready to host some of Nathan's music students for a Christmas party. It wasn't the cheapest coupon shopping I've ever managed, but I was still pretty pleased:

That's $90.74 worth of groceries, but I paid $35.58. You can't really see everything in the picture, but in addition to party splurges like Coke and Sprite (which were free, actually) and cookie mix, brownie mix, potato chips, and crackers, I also got two loaves of whole wheat bread, five heads of broccoli, two bags of organic dried beans, two boxes of organic whole wheat pasta, flour, brown sugar, two boxes of Bisquick, two bags of organic corn chips, and more! (I didn't get much produce in that particular shopping trip because I already have lettuce, carrots, apples, grapefruits, and a box of yummy clementines in the house.)

After my grocery shopping was completed I had a short rehearsal with my children's orchestra, followed by an end-of-semester pizza party. The kids were so excited about the party, and I enjoyed seeing how they've become friends over the past three months, even though rehearsal time is always disciplined and focused. To my surprise, the orchestra parents presented me with a $125 gift card to P.F. Chang! I'm so excited, because I love Chinese and have always wanted to try this restaurant. Then some of the kids gave me Christmas presents individually, too. Abby and her mom gave me a jar of homemade hot fudge, Nathanael and his mom brought me a plate of homemade Christmas cookies, and Roan and his mom gave me a beautiful handmade bag, specially "commissioned" to be just the right size for carrying music!

From that party I went to a gig, where I smiled to myself - as I often do - at the wonderful fortune that is mine: the beauty of music is woven into every day of my life, and I get paid for this stuff! I hope I never stop being amazed and happy about that.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Week in Review

Last Tuesday: Teach 2:15-5:45 and prepare for last-minute trip to Pennsylvania.

Wednesday: Drive to PA (10ish hours).

Thursday: Thanksgiving.

Friday: Drive back to Massachusetts. 7:30-10:00 pm, orchestra dress rehearsal for Christmas pops concert.

Saturday: Cook "Thanksgiving" dinner even though it's not Thanksgiving anymore. Have friends over to eat in the afternoon. 8 pm concert.

Sunday: Church. Afternoon concert. Wait through Nathan's recording session. Go get Christmas tree.

Monday: Clean up Thanksgiving mayhem (big job) and start decorating for Christmas. Work on homemade Christmas gifts. 4:00-6:15 conduct children's orchestra. 7:00-10:30 orchestra dress rehearsal (different orchestra) for Christmas pops concert (different concert).

Tuesday: Vacuum, mop, organize. Proofread church stuff. Teach 2:15-5:45. 8-10:30 Christmas pops concert.

And the rest of December looks at least as busy!