Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pecan Pie

I made a pecan pie for my family-in-law to enjoy.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Camera Insecurities

me: *click click click* on my new Nikon D7000

mother-in-law Carolmom: *click* on her canon powershot. "Why isn't my camera working?"

brother-in-law Jared: "It's embarrassed."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Gift

Very. Exciting. News.

(or Why I Have The Best Husband Ever)

My husband picked up on my none-too-subtle hint and presented me with a Nikon D7000 for Christmas yesterday!

Apparently he got really excited about the whole idea; he consulted such experts as my brother and sister-in-law, and read online about various cameras for days.

[He has long been an off-and-on camera enthusiast, while I am a complete novice.]

As it turns out, I'm not particularly good at taking pictures... at least not yet.

In fact, when Nathan started excitedly talking to me about f/stops and apertures and shutter speeds I sort of felt like crying. And when he started drawing diagrams of light entering lenses, I felt like the Sarah Marie of ten years ago who sobbed when my Dad tried to explain trigonometry to me and I just couldn't quite get it.

But even if so far it's:
Sarah Marie: 0
Nikon: 1

I refuse to be discouraged.

I will be victorious. We will be victorious together, the beautiful Nikon and me.

This camera is way nicer than I deserve, but I hope to slowly ascend towards its level.

First I tried taking some pictures of the Christmas tree here at the in-laws' house, experimenting with the aperture priority setting.

Not a great picture or anything, but hey, I'm a beginner!

[And look at the reflection in the silver ornament... cool.]

My brother-in-law Andrew was a very patient model:

And I deemed the roasted sweet potato wedges I made myself for dinner photo-worthy, of course:

If I can read a few photography books without giving up in despair, and listen carefully to Nathan's explanations of the science behind photography without dissolving into tears, who knows? I may have the makings of a shutterbug.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

Most years I play for one or two Christmas Eve services, and it's something I always look forward to. Christmas Eve is special, and playing Christmas music with fellow musicians and friends makes it even more special for me.

I love it that amidst all the hustle and bustle, everyone sets aside their last-minute shopping, their cooking or baking, their gift wrapping, and comes to celebrate the advent of peace. "Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace."

I love seeing the Christ candle lit and watching the flame flicker throughout the service: "God of God, light of light..."

I love seeing the children so excited, all dressed up in their finest. The girls in red and gold dresses, their sashes tied in big bows, their patent leather shoes gleaming. The boys in collared shirts, their hair neatly combed. "With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand."

I love hearing the voices of congregations raised in song: "Joyful and triumphant!"

I love the traditional closing of the service with the congregation singing Silent Night as they each light their candles, until the dimmed room glows with the light of hundreds of tiny flames. "Son of God, love's pure light."

I envision thousands of churches all over the world singing Silent Night just like this - in Austria, perhaps, and in Germany and France, in the cathedrals of Italy and in the chapels of Switzerland - pausing on this holy eve of the nativity to remember the birth of a baby that would change everything. "Born the King of angels..."

I love hearing the little sounds of the babies in the church: their coos, their sighs, and even their cries. Each a reminder of what we've gathered to celebrate - a God who took on frail humanity. "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail th'incarnate deity!"

He knew he would be scorned, despised, and rejected.

He knew he would be spit upon.

He knew he would be crucified.

Yet he came anyway, and in the most unexpected of ways: a baby, born in a manger.

Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Nephews and Stenciling

I made three cute stenciled t-shirts for my three cute nephews this Christmas. They're en route to the kiddos as we speak -- they won't get there until after the New Year, but a very busy aunt can only do the best she can.

I've done freezer paper stenciling once before, but hadn't tried anything particularly complicated until now. I started with my idea for Thomas's shirt: a train for the boy who loves trains. This one was simple enough; I found a silhouette-type picture of a train online and printed it out, then cleaned up the lines a bit with a pen before tracing it to freezer paper and cutting out the outline with an x-acto knife. After positioning the paper (glossy side down) on the tee-shirt, I ironed it on and then added a little square for the conductor's window. With everything ironed down securely (and an extra piece of freezer paper on the inside of the shirt to prevent the paint from soaking through), I painted a few coats on and let them all dry thoroughly before peeling away my stencil to view the results:

The next one I did was for Josiah, the youngest. I had it in my head that a giraffe would be a really cute, and I'm glad I thought of it; I love the way it turned out. After finding a suitable picture online to turn into a stencil, I created my freezer paper stencil as before, but this time the initial coats of paint were just my base color. After the light brown had dried, but before removing my stencil, I painted all the spots and details freehand. After letting the paint dry, I removed my stencil to reveal the finished product:

The last shirt I did was for Jonathan, the oldest. I was a little concerned about what to do for his, since I imagine he might be at or nearing the age where he could be particular about what he does and doesn't want to wear. Eventually I settled on a zebra. This turned out to be the most complicated one I did, partly just because it took a lot of coats of my base white paint to make sure no orange from the shirt was showing through. When I had finished the coats of white paint, I did the stripes freehand before removing the stencil. Because the coats of paint had built up to be a bit thick, a little of the paint started to peel off with the paper stencil, and I had to touch it up by hand. (Definitely became a bit more imperfect at this point; oh well.) So this is the shirt I'm most nervous about -- I'm hoping the paint doesn't peel off in the wash or anything.

I have to admit I'm pretty pleased with how all three turned out. I hope Jonathan, Thomas, and Josiah enjoy wearing them!

Back in November when I traveled out to California for my Grandma's memorial service, I got to spend some fun time with my sister and my nephews, as well as my brothers and the rest of the family. The little boys and I discovered that the front-facing camera on my iPhone, while not capable of producing particularly high quality photos, can provide endless amusement, since you can see the silly faces you're making while posing for the picture - a definite plus for the attention span of kids when confronted with a camera lens.

First Thomas and I had some fun taking pictures:

Isn't he cute?

Josiah joined us:

Jonathan and I tried out some different faces:

And Emily joined in the fun, too!

I love those boys.

Hot Chocolate Cake

Last night I made Nathan a chocolate cake topped with marshmallows perfectly browned in the oven.

If he didn't love me before, he does now. Oh, he does now.

[Inspiration from here; original recipe here. FYI, I halved it and it still made two Corningware grab-its worth.]

The Age Difference

Musing about the future - partially inspired by a few blogs with gorgeous ideas for entertaining - this morning I told Nathan, "I think when I turn 30 I will throw myself a party."

He replied, "Well, if you're still alive."

[He can afford to be smug and clever; he is a whole year younger than I am.]

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Word Mash-Up

I have this thing I say to Nathan sometimes. It's three words squooshed into one. It goes like this: "lovelovelove."

[I know; that's a lot of love. Well, he deserves it all.]

Sometimes when he gets home I jump up and say, "lovelovelove!"

Sometimes at the end of an email or text message I'll say "lovelovelove."

Or sometimes I'll just text him that word, nothing else.

A long time ago, my iPhone started recognizing "lovelovelove" as a word. Once I get about halfway through the second "love," it knows what I'm typing and offers to finish the word for me.

And I think that is the greatest.


I can't believe I didn't write this post a week ago, it's that important.

I made it through a semester of grad school, yes, but the real accomplishment?

I made it through a semester of grad school in Boston parking in metered spaces for all my classes and rehearsals, and...


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Five Christmas Songs

I believe I mentioned that I love suspensions. In music, I mean, which is not to say that I don't love suspense of the non-musical variety also. In case you also love suspensions, I made a playlist with my favorite movement of Corelli's 'Christmas Concerto' at the top of the list. It's a great way to get your daily quota of suspensions. Or maybe you are wondering what in the world a suspension is... but who knows, you might still like the music. Pretty much every Christmas Eve I get to play this movement in a church service or two and it always makes me happy.

Then I put 'For Unto Us a Child is Born' from Handel's Messiah on the playlist, too, because who doesn't love that chorus?

Then, because I was afraid you'd think I was a music snob, I added some non-classical classics: Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. And finally, I put on one of my guilty pleasure Christmas songs. A song I totally sing along to on the radio this time of year, and hope no one judges me too much for it.

Get a playlist!

Things I Love

Christmas music

the way my head fits against my husband's chest; how he massages my head with his fingers.

suspensions in music; today particularly in Corelli

baking cookies for people I love

a soft mattress


my parents, and my in-laws, for being wonderful and for loving us


Christmas lights - especially the icicle kind

being well-rested enough to enjoy jumping up and cooking for my husband when he's hungry

my parents, for still being crazy about each other

the fact that my Mom is alive after a close call four years ago

making gifts for my nephews - I love those kids

totaling up my 2010 income and hearing my husband say I have impressive earning power

having a holiday and being able to bundle myself up in blankets on the couch and just relax

dreaming about the future and how it will all just keep getting better

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fun with Friends

A winter holiday brings out silliness in those who are relieved to be done with finals and other such terrors.

It is December, and there is snow on the ground. We took a road trip with friends to visit family and play a Christmas concert together. And for two weeks, I don't have to do [much] work.

A real holiday. Could life be more lovely?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

No Chimney?!

A young student asked me earlier this week, "Do you have a chimney?"

"No," I replied, without really thinking about the question.

"Then how does Santa get in to bring you presents?" he asked, horrified.

I was stymied. I never believed in Santa as a kid, so I don't even know what the right answer to this question is. Does Santa come in windows in homes without chimneys? Does he break down the door? Does he have a spare key? Can he walk through walls?

I hope my answer, "I'm sure Santa can always figure something out!", didn't fall too flat.

End of Semester

Today I turned in all the last of my papers and projects. I took my final exam.

A gig, two rehearsals, and two concerts this weekend, then my violin jury on Monday.

32 violin lessons to teach over the next seven days...

and then...


Yes... I am taking two full weeks off from teaching.

I love teaching, but I'm tired.

Two weeks of vacation. I can't remember the last time I took a real vacation of more than a few days - or maybe a week for Christmas. And usually when I do have to take a few days off, I usually stress myself out scheduling make-up lessons for all of my students.

None of that this time. A real live vacation!

I fully expect it to be amazing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Blessed are the entitled?

My sister-in-law Jenn pointed me to a great article: Blessed are the entitled?

The article reminds me of my post last December on the absurdity of the Stand for Christmas campaign - but Rachel Held Evans is more articulate, of course!


It's the "I've forgotten what it feels like to be warm" time of the year.

It's the dry skin time of the year.

It's the chapped hands time of the year.

It's the runny nose time of the year.

It's the shovel-your-driveway time of the year.

It's the find-presents-for-everyone time of the year.

It's the good-luck-trying-to-find-a-parking-space-anywhere time of the year.

It's the fruitcake-in-the-mail-from-distant-relatives time of the year.

It's the play-Sleigh-Ride-in-concerts-every-weekend time of the year.

It's the finals, papers, and juries time of the year.

It's possibly the most stressful time of the year...

And yet still there seems to be a consensus - which I certainly share - that it's "the most wonderful time of the year."

Because, you see, it's the family and friends time of the year.

It's the curl up on the couch with a mug of hot tea time of the year.

It's the Christmas cookie time of the year.

It's the deck-the-halls-and-trim-the-tree time of the year.

It's the wrapping-gifts-for-those-you-love time of the year.

It's the music everywhere time of the year.

It's the Glory to the Newborn King time of the year.

[And playing Sleigh Ride for the millionth time? It's really not so bad.]

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


These days, "quality time" for the two of us is hitting the snooze buttons on our respective alarms in tired protest.

Oddly enough, sometimes those extra ten minutes of semi-consciousness with my best friend... it's the best part of my day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Don't Wants

I don't want to write this paper tonight.

I don't want to write the other one due later this week, either.

I don't want to do the rewrite on my final semester paper.

I don't want to go to a lesson tomorrow for which I feel unprepared.

I don't want to play in the chamber music concert tomorrow night.

I don't want to take that final exam.

I don't want to finish that big project.

I don't want to have a violin jury next Monday.

I really, really don't want to have that jury.

But there are some things I am looking forward to, like the service of Lessons and Carols at the church where Nathan works, and a road trip with friends to see family and play great Christmas music, and a blissful, blissful holiday during which I will try to catch up on a semester's worth of sleep.

To get to all those nice things, I have to survive the not-nice things.

Here goes.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gabe's Homily

My brother-in-law Gabe has posted the text of the homily he delivered at my Grandma's graveside service earlier this month. An excerpt:

Grandma has completed that journey, from love to Love. Her faith in Christ and love for her family were well known. When Emily was born she gave up smoking, cold-turkey, for her granddaughter. She was always ready to show her love for us by preparing food and feeding us as much as she could manage when we came to her house. Even when age prevented her from cooking full meals, she was always careful to have something prepared at family gatherings. And she showed her love to us in her gift-giving, which was always done with great generosity.

Rooted and grounded in this basis, she has passed from her own faith in Christ and love for her family to now standing in the presence of Love Himself. The love whose height and depth fills all things and now completely fills her, the love that sacrificed itself for her sake, the love that moves the sun and all the stars. She is now filled with all the fullness of God in a way that we can only dream of, and she possesses that understanding of the love of God which is beyond knowledge.

Gabe did a great job; I particularly liked the Dante reference.

Grandma loved us, her family, so very much. And we miss her.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Silent Night


Playing a Christmas carol as a duet with a student who has been making great progress since beginning lessons with me last year...

[Silent Night...]

Being surprised to feel my heartstrings unexpectedly tugged by the experience...

[Holy Night...]

Seeing the neighbor's Christmas lights twinkling outside my window as we play...

[All is calm, all is bright...]

Seeing her mother's face shine as she listens to her daughter play...

[Mother and child...]

A moment of calm contentment amidst a busy, stressful time of year...

[Heavenly Peace.]

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

This year marked the first Black Friday on which I've ventured out and braved the crowds to snag some bargains. It ended up being fun despite the long lines, and when the bottom of my receipt from Kohls read "You saved: $400," I began to see why so many people find it worthwhile to shop the day after Thanksgiving.

Among other things, Nathan and I found a much-needed new set of sheets marked down from $80 to $19.99.

They are flannel, and they are warm and cozy, and they bring new meaning to the phrase "comfort and joy."

[Having a holiday was so nice. I wish Thanksgiving break extended until, oh, I don't know, June.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Airport Security Silver Lining

A silver lining to our cancelled trip to California is, I suppose, that we didn't have to get full-body-scanned or groped.

I admit I got a good laugh out of this college kid, who made the news when he took it a step further than removing his shoes and belt - he stripped down to his speedo to walk through security. "This is a safety precaution," he claimed. "Just making sure I don't have any trouble!"

While the video he made of his little protest is humorous, airport security certainly isn't something I want to deal with these days.

Change of Plans

We were going to be in California for Thanksgiving this year. We were excited to go, but on Monday my parents called to let me know that most of Nevada County has lost power, and doesn't expect to have it back until after the holiday. Out in the boonies and on a well, no power means no water. Which means, of course, no showers, no flushing toilets, and other such difficulties. After much consideration, we decided to cancel our flights - a click of the mouse with which I shed a tear - and drive to visit Nathan's family in Erie, PA, instead.

Judging from this photo, it would seem that while I am complacent, Nathan is horrified at this turn of events.

[Or maybe we are just having fun with the Photo Booth program on Shiny.]

Bro-in-law Andrew is here, too.

[We're cool kids.]

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Symphony of a Thousand"

A week ago, I came home from an evening rehearsal convinced that the only thing worse than a 12-hour-non-stop day, already very exhausting and headache-inducing, was ending said day with eight Mahler soloists belting from their location only two feet behind my head in a rehearsal for Mahler's 8th Symphony, the so-called "Symphony of a Thousand."

It was a big undertaking for the two orchestras and three choruses combining forces for the performances. It was much talked about.

Last night I came home from the second and final performance of the symphony convinced that it was worth it.

It was worth a week of 8am to 11pm days. It was worth experiencing real, aching pain in my ears from the proximity of the soloists.

It was an experience.

At the end of it all, the conductor cried.

It was, apparently, "A Tsunami of Ecstasy." (Gee whiz.)

I'm happy to say that I slept eight hours last night and I feel like a new person. A person who can survive the next couple of days until Thanksgiving break begins.

Mahler 8 is, in short, about redemption. The first part, set in Latin and based on the text "Veni, creator spiritus," and the second half, a German setting of the final scene from Goethe's Faust, are unified by this concept. Redemption.

"O God," sings Pater Profundus, "Bring light to my needy heart!"

Of course, skipping to the end of such a work is cheating oneself of the whole experience, but in case you're the kind of person who reads the last chapter before deciding whether or not to read a book, here you go: The Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Tonight, in the middle of a rehearsal, I sneezed so hard I tweaked my back out, and didn't regain a full and comfortable range of motion for fifteen minutes.

It was weird, to say the least.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stolen Hygiene

Last night I dreamed that my sister Emily stole my crystal deodorant and refused to give it back.

These are the kinds of deep-seated fears that haunt my subconscious.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Let the Rest of the World Go By"

Grandma and Grandpa loved the song "Let the Rest of the World Go By," and were particularly fond of the instrumental version from the film "Out of Africa." They used to sing it to us when we were little, and sometimes they'd hum it and dance together in their living room. Through them, I grew to love this song. One summer when I was home from college, I searched around on iTunes and bought a dozen or so of their favorite songs from years gone by, and made them a mix CD. I put the version from "Out of Africa" as the final track on the CD, and I still remember them swaying in each others' arms while they listened to it.

Grandma and Grandpa used to tell me that when they first moved to California - my Dad was a young kid at the time - they sang it the whole car ride across the country. There's a line that goes, "We'll build a little nest, somewhere in the west," so it became their theme song for the trip as they moved to the west coast after having lived primarily in the south.

Shortly after Grandma passed away, I found myself listening to this song for the first time in a few years, and I wrote a little "arrangement" (if you can call it that) for violin - basically just the nice, shmaltzy thirds and sixths everywhere just like on the recording I have. At the request of my Dad, I'll be playing it at Grandma's service in California this weekend.

The instrumental version I love is the John Barry arrangement, and it's available on iTunes, or you can listen to it for free on Rhapsody (track 10).

The words are:

With someone like you, a pal good and true
I'd like to leave it all behind and go and find
Some place that's known to God alone
Just a spot to call our own
We'll Find perfect peace, where joys never cease
Out there beneath a kindly sky
We'll build a sweet little nest somewhere in the west
And let the rest of the world go by

Here's a vocal version, featuring Dick Haymes:

It's a nice song. I love how music can be so dated, and yet so timeless.