Wednesday, December 23, 2009


You never know what you'll find when you decide to finally download the last four months of photos from your camera to your computer.

Our friends Dustin and Erica got married in October. Here's a fun picture of Nathan with Dustin - these two grew up together in Erie and then ended up at the same college.

After the (utterly fantastic) wedding reception, we spontaneously decided to stay in NJ for the night rather than driving home, and then go to NYC (my first time in the city) the next morning.

Our friend Marissa came with us:

It was a Sunday morning, so naturally, we wanted to go to church. We decided on "Smokey Mary's," and we enjoyed their service very much!

After church we wandered around to see the sights. Marissa has been to NYC lots of times, so she was a great tour guide.

Marissa is the dramatic soprano with a taste for Broadway flair:

I'm the straight-laced one with a violin strapped on my back. (I had played at the wedding the day before, so I had my violin with me. Yay backpack straps that make carrying that thing around all day a lot easier!)

New York City, you're so exciting.

Poor Marissa probably hadn't counted on the fact that Nathan and I are kind of ecclesiophiles (I may have made up this word), and we really love going to churches. So after lunch and some sight-seeing, we dragged her along to Evensong at St. Thomas church on Fifth Ave. It was glorious. Nathan took this picture because he loves pipe organs:

Marissa was a good sport about our unique choices in things to do in NYC.

What an enjoyable trip!

Being spontaneous is fun.

December Dreaming

Nathan, his brother Andrew, our friend Lisa, and I drove out to Erie, PA over the weekend to take part in a wonderful Christmas concert at my father-in-law's church. We had a great time visiting Nathan's family, but unfortunately we all picked up a bit of a cold bug to varying degrees, and started feeling under the weather as we were driving back to MA on Monday night. I'm particularly annoyed at this turn of events, because I had almost made it to February without getting sick, which would have marked a full year since becoming a vegetarian and given me all sorts of additional health-based veggie propaganda to add to my arsenal. Oh well.

Last night I went to bed with a sore throat and a stuffy head, only to have the night made worse by a vivid and lengthy dream of myself giving a violin lesson to my absolute worst student. The dream was all too real, and I seemed to hear clearly the wrong notes, missed accidentals, and poor bow control that are so characteristic of this student's lessons. I dreamed about teaching my worst student while I'm on vacation. As if being sick right before Christmas weren't bad enough.

Dude, dream gods, don't hit a girl while she's down.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Stand for Christmas"

Have you heard about Focus on the Family's "Stand for Christmas" campaign? Their website boldly proclaims,

"We're asking YOU to decide which retailers are "Christmas-friendly." They want your patronage and your gift-shopping dollars, but do they openly recognize Christmas?"

The site allows users to leave comments on individual retailers, as well as ratings on a given store's degree of "Christmas-friendliness." These comments frequently use the word "offensive" to describe users' feelings upon being wished "Happy Holidays."

Here are a few charming comments left regarding American Eagle:

Comment Date: Dec 9 2009 4:34 PM
Rating: Christmas-Offensive
Comment: With a name like "American Eagle," one would think the company owners would be more AMERICAN-FRIENDLY. ...

(Wait, so Christmas is an American holiday? Silly me, this whole time I thought it originated in Bethlehem!)

Comment Date: Dec 8 2009 9:47 PM
Rating: Christmas-Offensive
Comment: ...No mention of Christmas. I don't shop there anymore.

(You're offended by not having Christmas mentioned? Honey, it would be offensive if they cursed the name of Jesus, but how can you be offended by someone not wishing you a "Merry Christmas"?)

Comment Date: Dec 14 2009 9:54 AM
Rating: Christmas-Offensive
Comment: Shopping in there this Christmas season was like shopping there any time of year....

(Some people are never happy. I bet this same person frequently complains about the over-commercialization of Christmas.)

Here are some comments about Old Navy:

Comment Date: Dec 14 2009 10:32 AM
Rating: Christmas-Offensive
Comment: I shopped both the Old Navy website and catalog for my family of 5 and presents for my 6 nieces and nephews. I found the blatant lack of Christmas to be completely offensive. I will actually not only NOT shop at Old Navy this season, but will not do so in the future as well.

(All it takes is a lack of overt Christmas-y-ness to offend you?)

Comment Date: Dec 11 2009 3:03 PM
Rating: Christmas-Offensive
Comment: The "do-what-you-wannaka" ad was very offensive...

(Seriously? You're offended by a reference to Hanukkah? I could see how a Jewish person might find the seemingly flippant reference offensive, but you seem to be offended simply because it was an inclusive ad campaign!)

Comment Date: Dec 9 2009 4:02 PM
Rating: Christmas-Offensive
Comment: [Clerk]told me that they are told to say Happy Holidays...I will find a Christmas friendly store

("Happy Holidays" is such an unfriendly phrase.)

Comment Date: Dec 7 2009 11:01 AM
Rating: Christmas-Offensive
Comment: ...lack of Christmas spirit (i.e. advertising). I will be spending my Christmas dollars with your competitors. Merry Christmas!

(Of course, we all love being manipulated by faith-based advertising campaigns.)

Comment Date: Nov 30 2009 9:15 AM
Rating: Christmas-Offensive
Comment: Without the birth of Jesus Christ, there would be no "holiday." It's CHRISTMAS. So, MERRY CHRISTMAS

(Actually, I'm pretty sure it wasn't the baby Jesus who kept the oil lamp burning in the temple for eight days...)

Had enough of those crazy comments yet? I think I have.

Why are so many Christians intolerant towards the idea of wishing someone "Happy Holidays"? What's so wrong with being inclusive in how we celebrate the season? (And since when do we want the birth of a Savior to be some marketing ploy, anyway? Christians are always complaining about the commercialization of Christmas!)

Let's look at the facts. Sure, many people celebrate Kwanzaa, but I think it's fair to venture that the primary two holidays we're talking about when we wish someone "Happy Holidays" are Christmas (whether of the Jesus variety or the Santa variety) and Hanukkah. Do we really want to be intolerant of our Jewish brothers' and sisters' right to celebrate an important event in the history of Israel? Jesus was Jewish, and Paul tells us that as Christians we are "grafted" into that faith. It is our spiritual heritage. When we consider that, why aren't more Christians celebrating alongside Jews as they remember the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem and commemorate how God kept the oil lamp burning for eight days? This is not an "anti-Christian" holiday, and we shouldn't be offended by those who celebrate it, nor should we be offended by an inclusive clerk wishing us a "Happy holiday season." Hanukkah is a celebration that is pre-Christian in nature, but whether or not you believe that Judaism found its fullness in Christ as the Messiah, you should be able to sincerely wish your Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah.

I have several Jewish violin students, and each year they complement my beautiful Christmas tree, give me Christmas gifts, and wish me a "Merry Christmas" this time of year. It would be unbelievably rude of me to not extend the same graciousness to their traditions and beliefs, and I'm glad I can sincerely and joyfully wish them a "Happy Hanukkah!" I enjoy hearing how they celebrate and love seeing their excitement when they talk about lighting the candles on their menorahs. Can you imagine if I insisted on wishing them a "Merry Christmas," simply because that's the holiday I'm celebrating this time of year? Yes, I may believe that Advent and Christmas are a time of celebrating the coming of the Messiah, but forcing it down peoples' throats isn't the best approach I can think of to celebrate this season.

When clerks wish you "Happy Holidays" this time of year, they're simply acknowledging that they don't know you personally and can't be sure of which holiday (or holidays!) you and your family choose to celebrate. But whatever you're celebrating, be it Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or even winter solstice, they hope it's a happy one.

I'm okay with that, Focus on the Family. If you merely want Christmas to be included in how retailers acknowledge the season, then perhaps you should recognize that phrases like "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" are already inclusive and respectful of Christmas. (And the majority of America is celebrating Christmas, so you're not exactly left out of any festivities this time of year.) And if you insist that everyone acknowledge or celebrate your holiday specifically, then perhaps you're the ones giving offense - not the well-meaning people wishing you "Happy Holidays."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Marylou Speaker Churchill

I've been meaning to write a few words about Marylou Speaker Churchill ever since I found out about her death on November 11, the day after she passed away. I didn't know Mrs. Churchill well, but I studied with her for three weeks at a summer festival several years ago, and she was the kind of person who left an impression, no matter how briefly you knew her.

She was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 30 years, and principal second for 23 of those years.

I have a spiral bound collection of music she gave me that summer, with a yellow cover bearing the title "Basics, Opus 2" and her name at the bottom. The title and her name are printed, but the rest of the front cover is covered in words, too - her own writing. A few phrases stand out to me each time I look at this little booklet, but especially the words written across the top of the page: "Start with JOY!" You didn't have to know Mrs. Churchill long, or very well at all, to realize that that was how she approached not just the violin, but all of life - with joy.

Inside the front cover are about 15 pages of exercises excerpted from various violin methods - Schradieck, Korguoff, Dounis, Yost, Galamian, and a little Simon Fischer. There's also a page of charts covering frequencies, ratios, cents, decimals, etc. for complete chromatic scales in Pythagorean, Just, Mean-tone, and Equal-tempered systems of intonation. (It's quite complex and gives me a headache just to look at that page.) Every page in the book, every exercise, is the sort of thing that can kick your butt whether you're mediocre or excellent (actually, I don't know anything about being excellent, but I can imagine).

There's an excerpt from a presentation she gave to young musicians once that seems to sum up her personality and beliefs well - her deep faith, her personal conviction in all that she did, and her vibrant love of music and of people:

"It appears that the greatest concern of the young musician seeking an orchestral position is the belief in stage-fright or nerves. Assuming proper preparation and a good attitude (I have nothing to lose, I don't have the job so I can't lose it), the manifestation of a loss of control is simply fear; fear of not doing as well as you can. There is a law of this universe which is so simple and so powerful and it literally wipes this fear out of your being, and it is this... "perfect love casts out fear." If you are actively engaged in loving your instrument, loving the music, loving the audience, loving the committee, loving your enemies, then there is simply no room for fear of any kind, and you will find yourself playing better than you expected. To love is to live, and breathe, and sing, and play. Love then."

The New England Conservatory, where Mrs. Churchill taught, has a nice tribute to her life and work on their website, which you can read here.

Midway through that yellow-covered collection of music is the last movement from Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time." This movement, "Louange à l'Immortalité de Jésus," or "Praise to the Immortality of Jesus," is only for violin and piano, and she included it in a book otherwise consisting of exercises as an opportunity to focus on tone, bow distribution, vibrato, phrasing... well, there are endless things to think about with this piece. But I think she also just loved the piece and wanted to share her copy of the music with her students. [Edit to add: you can read Michael's musings on an impromptu collaboration with Mrs. Churchill on this very piece at his blog.]

At the top of the Messiaen, penciled in just below the title are two words written in large cursive: "all love."

You can listen to a recording of Mrs. Churchill playing this movement with pianist Veronica Jochum here. It's an incredibly moving performance that vividly demonstrates that love - of music, of people, of life - that she spoke about.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Olan Mills and Church Directories

The church where Nathan is employed is in the process of making a new church directory, complete with photos of those who belong to or attend the church. Olan Mills is taking all the photographs and has been calling us for weeks in an attempt to get us to schedule an appointment for a photo session.

Last night I sent the following email to the generic church email address:

Dear staff members at [church name],

I am writing to express my concern at the way contact information of church attendees has been shared with Olan Mills. Tonight marked the sixth phone call to our home phone during dinner hours.

I find it problematic for the church to give out our personal contact information to any company soliciting our time and business.

Thank you for your understanding,
[my full name]

(This was considerably toned down from my first draft, incidentally, which included words like "outrageous" and "unacceptable" and phrases like "I have told them on several occasions and in no uncertain terms that, had I wished to schedule an appointment, I would have done so.")

There's no way I'm the only person who finds this approach irritating, right? Right? But I got a reply from the church which essentially said, not, "We're so sorry we gave out your contact information to a solicitor and you've experienced this irritating situation," but instead (and I paraphrase), "We're sorry you have a problem with it, but we have no idea why, since church directories are THE BEST THINGS EVER and EVERYONE SHOULD WANT TO BE IN THEM."

Part of the email read,

"Olan Mills is only making calls to either confirm appointments or to schedule appointments so that our entire church family can participate in the new directory."

Right. I KNOW. That's what my email was about, their numerous calls to try to make me schedule an appointment. Why are you reiterating the problem as though it's a solution or explanation?

The announcements in the church bulletin every week for the past two months, and the announcements made from the pulpit in Sunday mornings have all made it clear to me that a directory is being made. Six phone calls crosses the line from nice "church family on Sunday morning" stuff to harassment. I get enough sales calls in the evenings without having to worry about having a church give out my personal contact information.

Seriously, am I the only person who finds this outrageous?

Friday, November 20, 2009


I put my foot up on the ledge in the shower, grabbed my can of shaving cream, and shook it vigorously so it would be foamy and not drippy. In shaking it, I slammed it into my raised knee.

An inauspicious start to the day, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hello? Anyone Still Reading Here?

I have been, apparently, much too busy to blog lately.

This is probably a good thing, having so much going on in my life, but I'm still hoping to find balance - the kind of balance that allows for practicing violin, teaching students well, playing gigs, keeping up with friends, doing necessary housework, cooking delicious meals, reading good books, and spending time with my FavoriteBoy. [FavoriteMan? I started calling him FavoriteBoy when we were first dating and he was not yet 20 years old; now, in our mid-twenties, I'm thinking I need a new moniker. Suggestions?]

Will I ever find this kind of balance in my life? Right now it seems like wishful thinking, indeed.

To summarize the past few months, I read that the Army Strings had a vacancy for a violinist and submitted my resume. To my complete shock, they offered me an audition. (G_____ College? Whoever heard of it? I had figured my resume would go straight into the recycling bin.) I practiced as many hours as I could squeeze in daily to prepare for the audition (despite the fact that it was way out of my league and most people auditioning seemed to have master's degrees) and then decided to channel my motivation in a different direction, after all. Cancelled audition time; took lessons with various Boston grad school teachers. I do think a military career would be right up my alley... maybe someday.

Still figuring out how I feel about all these events and what exactly I plan to do next, but have stated publicly that 2009/2010 is going to be The Year In Which I Start Kicking Serious Butt In Life.

Meanwhile, since the aforementioned balance in life seems impossible to achieve, Nathan is enjoying eating bagel bites and pizza rolls (purchased with coupons, of course) instead of home-cooked meals half the time, and the living room is covered in laundry waiting to be put away.

I am still loving my vegetarian ways and consuming copious amounts of autumnal roasted veggies, baked spicy sweet potato wedges dipped in ketchup [my fav], and warm bean soups of various varieties. [By the way, it's National Vegan Month. I'm thinking of trying to be a legitimate vegan for the duration of Novemeber. Hmm. Eating vegan at home is easy, it's eating out or with friends that gets difficult...]

That's what's going on in my life. As to what's going on in yours, my dear internet friends, I wish I knew. My Google Reader has 1,000+ unread items.

Balance... right.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Trader Joe's

This article does a great job of summarizing why I (and most people I know) love Trader Joe's so much.

"...try telling your friends you’re going to Trader Joe’s and they’ll ask if they can go too. But you can’t drag people to Safeway."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Smoothie Recipe #1

I just realized that the Green Smoothie Challenge I wrote about is almost over! It ends September 17. Well, that went by quickly. I actually have to say it hasn't changed my habits much from normal. I ate a couple of "Joe-Joe's" (Trader Joe's version of Oreos) and other things with white sugar over the past month, just occasionally, and I'm okay with that. I had a green smoothie for breakfast almost every day, but not quite. I ate a green salad for lunch or dinner almost every day, but again, not 100%. And I exercised almost every day as I usually do, doing 3- or 4-mile runs for the most part. It was fun to do the challenge, and I came up with a few new smoothie "recipes."

Here's what I made this morning:

2 T. chia seeds, soaked overnight in 1+ cup of water
2 T. peanut butter
1 frozen banana
3-4 c. fresh spinach
2 T. psyllium seed husks

It was delicious! The peanut butter flavor could have been a little stronger, though, so if you're not worried about the calories, you could add another tablespoon or so.

If you're curious about chia seeds, here's one article I've found that details the health benefits. In short, they are a complete protein, a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, a good source of B vitamins, a great source of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, and a good source of fiber. When you soak chia seeds in water, they acquire a gel-like consistency. I like them in smoothies, or mixed in with my oatmeal. I'm looking forward to trying new ways of eating them, too -- I'm relatively new to the chia thing, having only gotten my first order in the past month. I ordered mine from a seller on, by the way - it was the best price I found.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Health Care and the S.A.D.

Just wanted to share a few links I've found interesting lately, mostly on the topics of wellness, healthcare, and food.

Most of you probably saw John Mackey's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal back in early August. If you didn't already read it, I suggest reading his original, un-edited version. Mackey lays out eight clear steps to government health care reform. He also suggests greater personal responsibility for health and preventable illness, pointing out how the American diet is responsible for such an overwhelming percentage of disease. As the CEO of Whole Foods, he's certainly made a lot of liberal foodies more than a little annoyed, and many are currently boycotting Whole Foods because of Mr. Mackey's opinions on the subject. I suppose it was to be expected that stating that health care is not a basic human right would be sure to get people riled up.

"Many promoters of health care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care-to universal and equal access to doctors, medicines, and hospitals. While all of us can empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have any more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have an intrinsic right to food, clothing, owning their own homes, a car or a personal computer? Health care is a service which we all need at some point in our lives, but just like food, clothing, and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually-beneficial market exchanges rather than through government mandates. A careful reading of both The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter, because there isn’t any. This "right" has never existed in America."

Michael Pollan also weighed in on the health care reform issue, suggesting that the biggest problem isn't just the health care system; what really needs to be addressed is the Standard American Diet and the government subsidies within agriculture (corn, soy, etc.) that often affect what Americans can readily afford to eat.

For other news on the health-and-wellness front, check out this USA Today article pointing out that 60% of adults can't digest milk. Yep. Since becoming a vegetarian back in February, I've found myself leaning more and more towards the "human milk is for baby humans, and cow milk is for baby cows" viewpoint, finding it increasingly odd that the human species relies on dairy for a sizable percentage of food intake. (Not that I ever liked cheese or milk!) Of course, some call my viewpoint on this issue "propaganda," but then take the "Got Milk?" commercials in stride without a second thought - of course cow's milk is part of a healthy diet. What?

The American Heart Association made waves by suggesting that women limit their added sugar intake to no more than 6 tsp. a day, and for men, 9 tsp. Quite a reduction from the average, which this article says is 22 tsp. per day!

For those calorie-counters who say, "A calorie is a calorie - who cares if it's from a potato chip or an apple?", here's an interesting article that delves into the science of that very issue. It's not the sort of thing you can skim - I found myself really having to think about each thing the author was saying.

That's all the linkiness for now!

By the way, I still love being a vegetarian. I was chatting with Nathan this evening about how my mindset has changed in the past seven months. I'm gaining a new perspective on how I view food as I think more about where my food has come from, and in some cases, at what costs. I told Nathan I find it interesting that some use words like "extreme" when describing my decision not to eat meat, when I, in my current frame of mind, view my dietary choices as exactly the opposite of extreme. Factory farming seems extreme to me. Almond butter, fresh-picked fall apples, medjool dates, avocados, spinach, hummus, ak-mak crackers, pita bread, sweet potatoes, squash, savory beans... mmm, these things are delicious simplicity.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Yesterday I gave a first violin lesson to a five-year-old girl named H, a beautiful child with wide blue eyes and a short-cropped pixie haircut.

The child's mother had - there's no better way of putting it - "warned" me rather cautiously over the phone prior to the lesson. She's quiet, she's shy, she has developmental delays. She had a "kindergarten assessment" and a psychologist recommended that she get involved in music. She has a hard time focusing. She has "issues." She has "problems."

I really didn't know what to expect when H. walked through my door yesterday, tiny violin case in hand. What I discovered was a charming child who quickly became at ease with me, giggling at my little jokes and standing near enough to rest her hand on my knee as we talked and learned about the violin together. She eagerly asked questions and willingly participated in each task or activity I offered. When her attention briefly waned (altogether normal for every five-year-old I've ever known), a quick change of direction in the lesson brought her back into sharp focus. When her enthusiasm bubbled over, her words ran together and became a bit jumbled - nothing a gentle, "Try saying that a little bit slower" couldn't fix.

So far, she's taken to the violin like a duck to water. None of the stiff, tense fingers some kids have; her hands are malleable and held the bow quite nicely. She breezed through a little game involving oft-confusing commands such as "touch your violin shoulder with your bow hand," "touch your bow elbow with your violin hand," etc. After ample repetitions and lots of encouragement, she was playing a simple rhythm on her E-string right in between her bow tapes, holding the violin with beautiful posture and the bow with soft, natural fingers each in their proper place.

The two of us, I think, had a wonderful time together. There's something quite special about her, and I don't mean that at all in the sense that the "education professionals" seem to be saying it. I just think she's H, curious and sweet, uniquely herself, and altogether delightful. Just one lesson with her, and I completely love her.

At the end of the lesson, H's mother seemed overjoyed. She exclaimed "You're wonderful with her!" and thanked me several times, expressing that she thought violin would be the perfect activity for H.

Oh, I don't say this to "toot my own horn" at all. While the mother's enthusiasm certainly made me happy, I mostly felt a little sorry for her - sorry that H. had to be "assessed" and then labeled as somehow deficient or abnormal, sorry for the stress and worry it had obviously created in this family, sorry that little H. will no doubt pick up on these conversations and feelings amongst her family if she hasn't already. Sorry that it had to be a surprise to H's mother that someone would be "good with her" and enjoy working with her so much. Sorry that every teacher H. encounters in the future won't have, as I had, 30 minutes of one-on-one time at her disposal each week to focus solely on H. and get to know her for the fun little person she is.

There are certainly cases and scenarios in which a family can find comfort and empowerment through a name for a genuine disorder; cases where this provides direction and a great deal of help to a family. But I'm pretty sure that there's altogether too much labeling of young children going on.

My favorite label is a name, and if the child wants to add a comma and the word "violinist" to the end of his or her name, well, my happiness is complete.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Should I Be Offended?

I'm not sure which is weirder, the fact that Nathan jokingly calls his earmuffs "marriage enhancers," or the fact that I think it's hilarious that he does so.


I want to crawl right through the computer screen and eat this Indian food.

I think I'll be trying some new recipes soon!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Monkeying Around With The Violin

My four-year-old student A. is so cute, and I'm particularly pleased today because this morning she paid attention to her entire 30 minute lesson! One of the activities we did this morning was especially enjoyable for her:

She played "The Monkey Song" four times with good attention to keeping her bow only on one string at a time, and after each of the repetitions I had her take a step forward and pick up a plastic monkey from the "Barrel of Monkeys" game. Once she had all four monkeys and had made her way across the room to be standing in front of me, we linked their arms and hung them from one of her violin pegs, and she held her violin in playing position (with her head only) for a count of ten, holding up those monkeys.

She's improving in her ability to focus on a given task, which of course takes us miles in the right direction toward learning to play the violin!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Where Funny Meets Gross

Lori at Fake Food Free shared a link to This is why you're fat: where dreams become heart attacks. Wow, what a hilarious website! It's a place for people to upload photos and descriptions of the most unhealthy foods imaginable. I can't decide which items pictured are the most repulsive. They're all just so bad. I can't believe people eat stuff like that. Deep fried twinkies? Deep fried marshmallow fluff? A "Double Bypass Burger"? (That's a bacon cheeseburger with two fried eggs on it, sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches for buns.)

As if the existence of these menu creations weren't disturbing enough, my dear husband actually thinks some of the foods look appetizing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Time-Traveler's Resumé

Sarah: What should I put on my resumé to make myself sound impressive?

Chaz: "Proficient in time travel."

Green Smoothie Challenge

Happy Foody is hosting the 2009 Green Smoothie Challenge, and it starts today! 30 days of health and green smoothie deliciousness... count me in!

Participating in the Green Smoothie Challenge is simply a commitment to:

Drink at least 16 oz. of green smoothie per day
Do some sort of activity every day
Add a green leafy salad to your lunch or dinner
Stop drinking soda
Cut out all white sugar

(Nathan says I'm cheating because this is barely any different from my usual life, and thus not exactly a "challenge"...)

What is a green smoothie, you're asking? Just make a fruit smoothie as you usually would, and add a few handfuls of greens - kale, spinach, swiss chard, etc. If you're just getting started with green smoothies, I recommend starting with spinach.

I already drink a green smoothie almost daily, following a basic recipe that goes something like this:

1 banana (fresh or frozen)
Fresh or frozen fruit (peaches, berries, pineapple, orange, anything!)
Around 4 cups of fresh spinach
water or almond milk to help it blend all together
1 tsp. of flax oil (for omega 3's)
(I also put in 2 T of psyllium for added fiber)
Sometimes I add a tablespoon of almond butter
Sometimes I add oats I've soaked in the fridge overnight
Sometimes I add brown rice protein powder

There are dozens of delicious smoothies I make regularly, and maybe I'll post some 'recipes' here in the next few weeks, like my "oatmeal cookie" smoothie, my "carob banana" smoothie, and others.

Check out Happy Foody's post for some great testimonials to the benefits of starting your day with the nutrients your body needs instead of your typical American breakfast. Breakfasts of cold cereal or bagels or eggs and bacon just aren't that good for you - too many simple carbs and too much sugar, or too high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

My friends think I'm weird, but I often eat veggies as part of my breakfast, whether in a smoothie or not. And you know what? I think the food I eat is way tastier than all this Standard American Diet stuff.

The part of this Challenge that I'm most excited about is cutting out white sugar for a month. I do try to stay away from refined sugar, but I know it creeps into my diet here and there.

I noticed that Heather is participating in the Green Smoothie Challenge too! Let me know if you decide to participate so I can follow your blog and keep up with your progress.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Suzuki Institute

The Suzuki Institute was awesome. I learned a lot, and it was rejuvenating to have a week away from cleaning and dishes, where I could focus on learning and growing as a violin teacher! The whole experience sort of made me want to go back to school. I stayed at The Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary, which I affectionately called 'The Convent' since my small room, just large enough for a twin bed and a desk, reminded me of movie depictions of rooms in convents. Also, all the people in my Suzuki class were women, and many of them were staying in the seminary as well. Oh, it was fun.

I met some terrific people and enjoyed thoughtful discussions about both playing music and teaching music.

There was an amazing frozen yogurt and smoothie joint just a few miles away, and classmates and I made more than a couple of trips there. It's probably similar to the Pinkberry phenomenon, which I've heard a lot about but never tried. Tart, tangy frozen yogurt with fresh fruit toppings. Way, way better than Cold Stone could ever be.

In addition to classroom lecture time, I got to observe some truly wonderful teachers working with students for a total of 15 hours of observation over the course of the week.

Our course teacher said something wonderful that I hope I can always remember:

"My number one goal isn't to train excellent violinists. Over the years I've had some students who were not a good reflection of my teaching, but I don't care. My first priority is that they become lovely human beings, and secondly, that they learn to love music. All the rest is details - important details, but details. And you know, some of those students who never become good violinists just may need me in their lives for reasons I don't know at the time."

She sent me home with lots to think about and a list of about 30 books I really want to read. For my fellow musicians and music teachers, I highly recommend attending courses like these, even if you don't want to become a "stereotypical" Suzuki teacher (whatever that may be these days). The principles taught can only benefit you and broaden your horizons.

Ahh, inspiration is a wonderful thing.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Week in CT

I'm leaving in just a few minutes to drive to Connecticut, where I'll be attending the Hartt Suzuki Institute for the next week, taking a training course for teachers. I'm excited to learn how to be a more effective teacher, but I'm a little sad to leave Nathan for a week.

I'm leaving him with two pizzas in the freezer, several boxes of macaroni and cheese, bread and ham and cheese, and other bachelor-friendly meals that can be quickly and easily prepared. I'm pretty sure he'll eat both pizzas tonight, and then go buy about twelve more to get him through the rest of the week. And I think he'll have so much fun eating unlimited pizza, watching the random documentaries that interest him each evening, and playing loud music at the piano until the wee hours of the morning, that he won't even miss me!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Squash Smoothie

Back in the spring I signed up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share at a local farm. This means I get a box of produce every week, and I never know what I'm going to get until I go pick up the box on Thursday. It's really fun! Lately there have been LOTS of cucumbers and squashes in that box every week. This morning, needing to use up some patty pan squash, I decided to chop up a particularly large one and toss it, raw, into my morning smoothie along with chunks of frozen peach, a banana, a few ounces of almond milk, and water. No kale or spinach in my CSA share this week, so the smoothie was a pleasant peachy color instead of my usual green shade. Nonetheless, Nathan does not share my taste in food, and even the nice color could not entice him to try it. I believe his words were something along the lines of:

"I would no rather drink that than I would raw sewage."

Regardless of Nathan's unenthusiastic (albeit uninformed) review, I recommend this idea if you have squash coming out your ears and need to use it up. The smoothie was delicious. (I don't think you can really taste the squash.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Russell Orchards Outing

Today Nathan and I and our friend Lisa went on an excursion to Russell Orchards in Ipswich. We had a great time picking raspberries and enjoyed some of the orchard's signature apple cider. We also saw some cute - and a few not-so-cute - animals.

Look at this curious little goat. She was on the opposite side of the pen, but when I held out my hand and clicked my tongue, s/he came right over to make friends with us:

This gleaming-eyed goose was entirely unafraid of orchard visitors:

These pigs were quite small...

...compared to "Big Boy"!

The miniature horses had the softest noses. Here's Lisa befriending one of them:

There were even guinea hens!

Nathan liked this tractor:

And he was a good sport despite the fact that he doesn't even like fruit!

But the best part of the day was coming home and making a fresh raspberry pie, based loosely on this recipe. I baked a simple vegan pie crust with coconut flakes mixed in with the flour, a recipe idea I've tried a couple of times lately for fruit pies. If you make your crusts in a food processor, it's easy to whirl the coconut around with the dry ingredients until it's a finely ground consistency, and the resulting pie crust will be delicious. Then, I mixed 1 cup of raspberries with a little water in my blender (rather than mashing the berries by hand on the stove top) and strained the seeds out, cooking the resulting juice according to the recipe, but with less sugar than called for - I used less than 1/2 cup. Pour the glaze over fresh berries, and the resulting pie exemplifies all that is good about summer weekends.

Lisa declared it possibly the best dessert she had ever eaten. All in all, I think it was a good day.


Dr. Sanders at Scriptorium Daily commemorated the 40th anniversary (July 20) of the first and only communion service on the moon with a post on the topic a couple of days ago. Sanders writes:

Presbyterian theology recognizes that taking communion all by yourself is a pretty weird thing to do (lunar or otherwise). So Aldrin and his pastor had worked things out in advance: The lunar landing was on a Sunday, and Aldrin’s home church celebrated their earthling communion service in a way that recognized one of their church members was way off in space, communing along with them.

He also points to this site for more information, including an excerpt that Aldrin wrote about the experience a few decades later:

"I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements."

P.S. Yes, I think my post title is quite clever, thanks.

Friday, July 24, 2009

They Shall Run and Not Be Weary

This is just fantastic.


The 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 has prompted some conversations about the history of the space program. Last night during one of these conversations the following exchange took place:

Sarah Marie: You have to feel a little sorry for Michael Collins...

Nathan: I have no idea who that is.

Sarah Marie: Exactly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Make Your Place

Amy over at Angry Chicken has a book review for Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs. Looks like an interesting read if you're curious about making your own (non-chemical-laden) cleaners, hygiene products, etc.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dooce and Natural Birth


Heather Armstrong of Dooce gave Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein and The Business of Being Born (directed by Epstein and featuring Lake) glowing reviews on her website yesterday. Beyond glowing, actually, but raving, shining, superbly fabulous reviews. This is a woman who ten or fifteen weeks ago was planning to ask for all available drugs in the hospital and hoping to be knocked out cold and not feel a thing when she delivered her second daughter, Marlo. And then, at about 30 weeks pregnant, she read Your Best Birth and she actually changed her mind about the birth process.

You can read her post The labor story, part 1 for yourself. (Or you've already read it because you're a normal American and everyone reads Dooce these days.) Her writing isn't usually to my taste, but this woman is a major influence on all 900 gazillion of her readers (okay, I estimate), and this is what she told those readers:

"I'm not going to get into the specifics and the really convincing and at times jaw-dropping statistics of it here, there are so many other places and people who can write about it better than I can, but I will say this: if you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, GO READ THAT BOOK. From now on when someone asks me what is the one piece of advice I would give to a pregnant woman, it will be: GO BUY A COPY OF THAT BOOK. [...] IT CHANGED MY LIFE. I'm not even kidding, I'll say it again: IT CHANGED MY LIFE."

I think books on natural childbirth are about to start flying off the shelves.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thoughts on Trinitarian Universalism

Oh blog, my little corner of the web, I neglect you badly these days. It's just that I have a house and a husband and lots of little music students to attend to, not to mention theological questions swimming around in my head.

Please forgive the messily-written processing that sometimes takes place here. That is how I learn, absorb, and remember - by having some sounding-board for my thoughts and a place to gather them all together.

If you read my post recommending Nathan Alterton's blog posts regarding hell, you may not be surprised by this: I'm afraid I may be leaning toward a type of Christian universalism; not the Unitarian type we often associate with the word "universalism" but rather a distinctly Christian Trinitarian universalism. I feel like I'm intellectually and spiritually on the brink of this great leap - believing something so opposed to the view of eternal torment most evangelical Christians hold - and it's rather frightening.

Nathan's dad has two posts of his own on the topic: How Broad a Salvation? and Part 2 of the same. He presents additional thoughts and considerations but doesn't necessarily eschew the view of universal reconciliation. He brings up interesting points about the Kingdom of God.

Gregory MacDonald (a pseudonym) has a couple of interesting and relevant blog posts: Reasons People Think Evangelicals Cannot Be Universalists and Responses to Evangelical Objections to the Orthodoxy of Universalism:

"'Evangelical' universalists arguably have a very biblical and robust notion of divine love (or so I argue in my book). They do not need to imagine that God is a soft touch who would not dream of punishing anyone. Their understanding of divine love seeks to be shaped by its revelation in Christ. And they have a strong view of divine justice. Indeed, they think that every divine action is a manifestation of what P.T. Forsythe called, "holy love." It is not that some divine acts are loving (like saving people) whilst others are just (like sending people to hell). Rather all God’s deeds are loving and just. Whatever hell is we must not suppose that it is the action of justice as opposed to love. It is, they think, an act of severe mercy – of 'holy love.'"

I've been thinking about The Great Divorce. It doesn't exactly paint a picture of universal reconciliation, but rather a bus filled with passengers with the option to disembark, leave hell, and be in the presence of God. This 'Great Divorce' of good and evil is voluntary. The interesting part, of course, is that most of the passengers continue to choose separation from God. If one loathes God and all goodness, truth, and beauty, one does not want to be in the presence of Him, after all. But, in this view of heaven and hell, the choice between the two continues beyond our earthly lives.

"There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened." - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

George MacDonald said, "Every soul that is ultimately lost is a defeat of the love of God," and "Every attribute of God must be infinite as himself. Mercy, for example, cannot be temporary but eternal." He also wrote in David Elginbrod, "...God loves, yea, is love. Therefore hell itself must be subservient to that love and must be an embodiment of it." According to this article in Christianity Today, he was known to ask, "Which is stronger? The love of God or the will of man?"

Do I believe in universal salvation? I wouldn't go that far right now. But perhaps (and I am simply positing here) the work of universal reconciliation is already accomplished, as the blood of Christ reconciled us to God while we were still sinners and were His enemies. This reconciliation does not require faith because it is already reality and was accomplished through grace. The enmity between God and man was reversed 2,000 years ago, and the sins of the past, present, and future forgiven. Now this does not necessarily mean everyone is saved. Whether one spends eternity with God or apart from Him may still hinge on individual choice, but perhaps physical death is not the final cutoff point in this choice; perhaps there is a possibility of post-mortem repentance and salvation. Given this proposed picture of life after death, will everyone ultimately choose God, accept His mercy, and be saved? I don't know. Maybe.

I'm feel as though I'm seeing for the first time a fuller scope of salvation, one that culminates in a beautiful, beautiful restoration of all things.

I'm surprised now that I didn't see it before, in Gregory of Nyssa, in George MacDonald, and in so many others - particularly early church fathers. But I suppose if you are taught in church and Sunday School to believe that all Christians think this one certain way about damnation and punishment, it can be difficult to see past that and glimpse that in fact, in the early church, a belief in universal reconciliation may have been the prevailing Christian thought.

Is it the truth? I don't know. But as I survey this other option I have the odd sense of being Chesterton's explorer: sailing the whole world and coming back to my starting point thinking I've discovered a new land, viewing home as something new and different, only to find it the same familiar home I left. I remember things my parents said and quoted to me over the years that may have quietly, subversively gone against the traditional evangelical view of hell. So perhaps it's not so odd that I'm considering this now, after all.

In addition to contemplating universal reconciliation, I'm also grappling with salvation (perhaps taking issue with the legally-based concept of justification-sanctification-glorification I was taught in youth group and considering differences between having our sins forgiven and 'being saved'), imputed vs. imparted righteousness, and the efficacy of prayer.

I wish I could say I'm doing this grappling in a methodical, productive way, but the truth is I just feel overwhelmed and confused.

I guess I've been feeling spiritually and mentally adrift lately, and by lately I think I mean for years now. I'm searching for orthodoxy, doctrine, and truth, yet I don't feel grounded in a church body of believers with whom I can grow and learn. I'm praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and if God weren't so good I think He'd be tired of my supplication, "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief."

My Dad says, "Humans trying to understand God is like trying to teach an ant quantum physics!" I feel like a little ant, indeed.