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!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shaws Steals

I can't go to bed tonight without sharing the amazing grocery shopping experience I had earlier this evening. (Note: the only reason I'm up so late in the first place is because Nathan has decided we should take an entirely unplanned trip to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving - despite the fact that I had a rehearsal tonight and have another rehearsal Friday night, meaning it will be a whirlwind of a trip!)

I was able to convince FavoriteBoy that we should pack sandwiches and make the drive without stopping to buy food by promising to buy him some snacky things at the store. So off I went to Shaws this evening, coupons in hand. I planned to get the best deals I could, but I was very pressed for time and resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be able to do my best couponing work. I bought:

1 can of cashews
1 can of dry roasted almonds
2 packages of Craisins
2 cans of Pringles
1 box each: Wheat Chex, Corn Chex, and Cheez-Its (to make Chex mix)
2 bags of Lundberg Rice Chips (my Dad introduced me to these and they are yummy!)
3 boxes of Wheat Thins
1 box of Triscuits
2 12-pack boxes of Coke (I was able to get these for nothing, and figured I might as well stock up for future parties, etc.)
2 gallons of milk (I don't drink milk and certainly don't need this much, but buying it actually gave me overage towards my other purchases)
4 blocks of extra sharp cheddar cheese
4 turkey kielbasa sausages (to freeze for another time)
2 bags of Ocean Spray cranberries
2 packages of Thomas's English muffins

If all these items were regularly-priced, and I didn't use coupons, this shopping trip would have cost $107.26.

I paid $39.31 and got back a $10 catalina coupon and a $25 Shaws gift card. If I'd had time, I could have applied the gift card to my total right there, making it $14.31 out of pocket, but I was already late to a rehearsal because the checkout computer had crashed before I could pay, and seemed to take a long time to fix - which is why the manager gave me the gift card! Also, while I stood by the register waiting for the employees to get things sorted out, I saw lots of customers ring up their purchases and then walk out without the catalinas that had printed, so naturally I snagged those that were left behind - score!

Please be assured that I do not usually buy so much junk. The crackers, Chex mix, and Pringles were merely my way of spending a lot less and preventing road-trip purchases of chicken fingers, fries, pizza, burgers, etc.

I'd call that shopping trip a great success!

Friday, November 21, 2008

PS22 Chorus

Music changes lives.

I believe that.

An elementary school music teacher in Staten Island believes that, too. His name is Mr. B, and he believes that the arts are an integral part of any successful school curriculum. His 5th grade chorus program is changing a lot of lives. The chorus has sung with famous pop icons like Tori Amos and Karen Peris.

I'm sure some of my music educator peers would say things like, oh, the kids should be learning classical music, and they should be belting less and using their head voices more, but you know what I think? This teacher is giving these kids exactly what they need. He is connecting with them in a unique way and teaching them to express themselves eloquently. He is taking a group of kids, many of whom are from underprivileged homes, and giving them voices. Those voices empower them and give them confidence and a niche of their own, a sense of belonging. The musical experiences these kids have will stay with them for a lifetime - a lifetime filled with music. What a gift.

There's a lot of energy and joy in those videos.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Family Visit

My parents came to visit me over the past weekend! It was so much fun, but three days wasn't long enough. I wish the two coasts of this country were not so far apart.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Church Invention

Does anyone know how you go about getting a patent? I've had this brilliant idea for a church-related invention. Every congregant will be provided with an electronic device like those used on TV shows for audience members to vote. The pulpit will be equipped with a trap door directly under the pastor/priest/minister, and when a majority of the congregation has "locked in their votes" that the sermon should, in fact, be over, the trap door opens and the preacher plummets through the floor (to a soft, pillowy landing - I'm not being mean), and the organist begins the postlude.

Thus ends church, and always in a timely fashion henceforth.

What do you think?

A Homemade Christmas

Remember when you were little and you made gifts for your family and friends each year for birthdays and Christmas? Have you done that lately? I know I haven't - five years of having college exams up until just a few days before Christmas sort of precluded having time to make gifts. This year I'm making things for family and close friends, and I'm so happy that I have the time to do so, and I think the people I'll be giving gifts to are exactly the kind of people who will appreciate my time and effort more than they'd appreciate a $10 DVD, anyway. At least, I hope so!

The first homemade gift I decided to make was lip balm, inspired by Cocoa at Chocolate on my Cranium. While the initial purchase of ingredients and chapstick tubes (I ordered them online) was a definite expense (around $50), it wasn't comparable with what we would have spent on Christmas anyway, and the amount of chapstick I can make from these supplies brings the cost down to around 15 or 20 cents a tube. I dragged my friend Story into the scheme and we spent a couple of fun evenings making lip balm.

The result? Pink Grapefruit, Lime, Peppermint-Rosemary (similar to Burt's Bees), and Vanilla. All scented with essential oils (no fragrance oils) and 100% natural, and definitely the best lip balm I've ever used. The lime is my favorite so far, with pink grapefruit a close second. We're envisioning cranberry and cinnamon on the horizon!

Next I decided to make magnets, inspired by Angry Chicken (who does some super cute crafts and sewing projects). I got super-strong neodynium magnets and Diamond Glaze from this Etsy shop, and wooden discs from a local wholesale craft store. Again, I pulled my friend Story into the crafting craze, and we glued cute paper onto the discs, glazed, attached magnets, and... done!

Finished products:

We've also made some glass marble magnets:

I'm completely in love with these magnets, and feel a compulsion to make more magnets than any one human could ever need, so it's a good thing I have plenty of people to give them to for Christmas! And yes, I realize that lots of the people we'll be giving gifts to read this blog, but that's okay, because this is your chance to comment and say, "Hey, I espcially like such-and-such a set!" I just couldn't wait until after Christmas to share these fun gift ideas.

Nathan and I are planning to spend less money and more time for family and friends this Christmas, and so far I must say the process is vastly more enjoyable than the usual Christmas shopping process! And the money we save can be used to make Christmas a little brighter for people less fortunate than ourselves. (For just a few ideas, check out World Vision's Gift Catalog, where you can give animals, clean water, education, and much more. You can give someone hope this Christmas.)

Serendipitously, my sister-in-law Jenn just shared a wonderful post on her blog about The Advent Conspiracy and her thought that in giving more and spending less, we come nearer to the heart of God and the true meaning of Christmas. Last year Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas. Just $10 billion would provide clean drinking water to everyone in the world, saving 1.8 million lives a year by preventing water-borne illnesses. You can find out more about the Advent Conspiracy (make sure to watch the great video), and learn how to give clean water through Living Water International.

If you have ideas for handmade gifts, please comment and share! I'm particularly wondering what kinds of handmade things might be guy-appropriate.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Human Rights and Poverty

As I said in my last post, I believe that pro-life Christians should be more than anti-abortion. The most basic right, the right to life, is being denied not only to the unborn but to untold numbers across the globe as well.

Radical Islamists in Somalia tried a 13-year-old girl for adultery when her family brought her to the police because she had been raped. She was stoned to death for her "crime."

Christians in Somalia face persecution from the predominantly Muslim community. One Somali man, who was well-traveled and had studied in Europe, returned to his native country to help his people by establishing a school - only to be killed because he had converted from Islam to Christianity.

Just a few small stories from one small country; there are millions of other lives and stories like these, stories of people suffering from persecution, disease, and poverty.

All I hear about on the news each evening is our own "economic crisis." How times are so hard that Americans are having to cut back to "only" eating out once or twice a week, or trading childcare with friends instead of paying full-time nannies. Even those with real hardship - with foreclosed homes or dependence on food stamps - cannot compare their problems with the lives of those in third-world countries who cannot afford one meal a day, and have no shelter or food pantry to turn to. Twenty percent of the world's population lives in absolute poverty.

Can you even imagine what it's like to be in a constant state of hunger? With no walls around you and no roof over your head, no clothes to provide even a little warmth? No prospect of an education to help you overcome your circumstances, and no hopes of even imagining a life that could be different from the poverty-stricken one you know? Can you imagine being a mother or a father unable to feed your children or provide them with health care and the education they would need to overcome the life they were born into?

I can't really imagine it.

Makes our problems seem a little insignificant, doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pro-Life Issues

Weighing on my mind lately has been the fact that so many Jews and Christians voted for Obama. While I understand that not everyone shares my worldview and I don't expect atheists to live according to a Judeo-Christian code of ethics, It's hard for me to imagine a God-centered worldview that allows this course of action. I believe that when a person makes a decision, he or she will be held accountable for it. I'm a sinner and will be held accountable for many things. But I did not, and never could, cast a vote to put a man in office who, by the power vested in him by my vote, would enact policies that did not protect or value the sanctity of human life. Obama will someday be held accountable for his position against the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act and his position in favor of partial birth abortion, and I believe that those who put him in a position to influence these life-and-death issues will also be held accountable. It just boggles my mind that people who believe in the God of the Bible could elect a man with these kinds of beliefs and such a pro-choice voting record, a man who believes that babies born alive during late-term abortions should be left for dead.

I understand that the issue of human life is bigger than abortion. I personally am opposed to the death penalty, for example, and I know that poverty, war, and disease are robbing untold lives around the world every day. I also understand that many believe that being opposed to the war in Iraq/Afghanistan is as much a "pro-life" issue as abortion because of the loss of lives for our troops, and may have cast their votes accordingly. There is a big difference, though, even if you truly think our country's actions in Iraq are not the right course of action at this time. Our men and women serving in the armed forces choose to put their lives on the line for their country, and they should be honored for that brave choice. Unborn children never get that choice, or that honor. They are deemed nothing but a few cells, a blob of tissue.

Jessica has written a very good post on a similar topic: Wanted Children. Go read it!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Post-Election Life

Since Obama became our country's President-elect, I have come down with a nasty cold and my beautiful fish Poseidon died.

There must be some cause-and-effect going on here, I'm just sure of it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Assorted Thoughts

Well, I'm not the happiest I've ever been. I did not vote for Obama, and I did not want him to become our next president. I am concerned about a lot of things that will likely transpire in the coming years: the state of the Supreme Court, the state of our national security, and the future of the abortion industry, to name a few.

I think that in the course of the next year, people will discover a lot of things. They will discover that you can't put your trust in a human. That they shouldn't have thrown around words like "hope" and "believe" with such levels of messianic zeal when speaking of anyone short of Jesus Christ. Jesus is, after all, the only one who can truly offer change and the only one in whom we ought to place our hope.

At the end of the day, when Obama is President, there will still be economic troubles. We will still live in a culture of debt. There will still be energy woes, oil companies, and irresponsible lenders to complain about. Oh, and America will still be a great nation founded on the greatest of principles. Let's not forget that.

Many are saying that Obama's presidency will cause a dramatic shift in the way the rest of the world perceives the United States. Perhaps so. Other countries have loved to cite America as a racist nation, and that will have to change. But the American president doesn't have the power to change everything overnight - thanks to the way our government is established. Obama can not fix the market tomorrow or end the struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan. And countries that hate America, if they are honest, hate some of our virtues as well as our vices, and we are not going to bring an end to capitalism or freedom. We are still a nation founded on the same principles we were founded on four years ago, and 232 years before that as well.

We live in a country that has come a long way since 1861. While I am certain I will disagree with many policy choices in the next four years, I will say this: I am proud to live in a country that is free and democratic. A fair election and peaceful passing of power should not be taken for granted. The Constitution still stands and the flag still waves. Diversity is a good and beautiful thing, and we have taken another step toward that infamous dream, that dream deeply rooted in the American dream:
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

...And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

God bless America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Thriving in College #2

Here's the second installment of a series of musings on college life and learning, directed toward my younger brother - or anyone else who might find it helpful!

Thriving in College #2: The Privilege of Study

My college orchestra conductors often opened rehearsals with a prayer thanking God for the opportunity to work hard. Think about that for a moment. We often thank God for times of rest or relaxation, but we forget to feel gratitude for the privilege of time to work.

Your college years are unique. You will likely spend the rest of your life doing work of various kinds, but you will probably never again have the time you have now to devote to study. Use it wisely. The process of obtaining a college degree is a time of possibility. What you accomplish in college has the potential to expand your work opportunities and increase your wage-earning ability. But besides the long-term benefits of a college education, intellectual growth is a satisfying accomplishment in and of itself.

Odd as it may sound, I actually wish I had four or five uninterrupted hours a day to study or practice the way I could in college. You too may find yourself looking back someday with longing for the days when you had the privilege - and it is a privilege - of studying and learning without the responsibilities of post-college life.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Kielbasa Bean Soup

Last week kielbasa was on sale buy-one-get-one-free at Stop and Shop. I picked out the turkey kind and decided to make soup!

I sort of made up the recipe as I went along... it was something like this:

Soak about 3/4 c. each of black beans and great northern beans (I did a hot soak because I didn't plan ahead and start the night before: bring a pot of water with beans in it to a boil; simmer for 2 minutes; remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse.)

Add 2 cups of water and at least 2 cups of broth (chicken, beef, vegetable, whatever).

Pour in a can of diced tomatoes.

Add onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. I used about half a bag of baby carrots (because that's what I had on hand) and maybe half an onion. I didn't have any celery but I would have put it in if I had it. I think I did three or four cloves of garlic.

Add 1/4 t. salt (or more to taste), 1-2 t. coriander, 1 t. crushed rosemary, some ground black pepper, a dash of cayenne pepper, a little dried oregano and/or basil, and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes.

Let everything simmer until the vegetables and beans are tender.

Meanwhile, slice the kielbasa and sauté until brown and delicious.

Add the sausage to the soup and enjoy! I served it with a little sour cream on top and some sliced avocado.


As rehearsal of the children's orchestra I conduct drew to a close earlier this week, the excitement of Halloween hung in the air. I told the kids that after writing their practice assignment on their assignment sheets, they could come tell me what they were dressing up as for Halloween.

"A ghoul!"
"A witch!"
"A skeleton!"
"A ghost!"
"Darth Vader!"
"The grim reaper!"
"A vampire!"

A shy violist approached me with a broad smile and whispered in my ear with delightful anticipation, "I'm going to be a princess."

Thank God for sweet little girls who love beauty more than ugliness and would prefer to bask in the girly fun of dress-up instead of clothing themselves in grimness, fright, and death.

(And that, I guess, reveals what I think of mainstream Halloween celebrations.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pumpkin Seeds

SarahMarie: Nathan, try one of these toasted pumpkin seeds. They're so good!

FavoriteBoy: Mm... hmm... Yes, this is delicious. So flavorful. Doesn't taste at all like an old crunchy peanut shell... What can I rinse my mouth out with?

Thriving in College #1

My youngest brother Christopher is a freshman at LeTourneau University in Texas. He's smart as a whip and is taking classes I would have died in, like Calculus and Chemistry. When I talk to him about the college experience, I think of things I wish I had known when I was a freshman (but probably wouldn't have listened to if someone had told me - oh well). Consequently I feel like telling him those things, because that is what big sisters like to do: imagine that a younger brother might learn from his older sister's stumblings through life. I asked Christopher if he'd like to hear periodic thoughts and tips, and his enthusiastic response was, "Yes!" Maybe these thoughts will be of interest to other college students, as well.

So without further ado...

Thriving in College #1: First Impressions

First impressions. You've probably been told how important they are. That applies to your college experience more than you may know. When students embarking upon taking lessons with my college violin teacher ask me for advice, I usually say something like this: "Work really, really hard. Show that you're interested, fascinated, and passionate about the violin by your body language and by your work ethic. Impress him now, or I'm sorry, but he'll write you off. If he starts being "nice" to you, that means he doesn't think you're going anywhere. You have a window of time in which to make him think you're worth his time. Take it and use it well."

While not all teachers are as intense as my violin teacher was, the principle applies to your college courses. Show your teachers how much you care about what you're doing - even if you have to fake it. If you are struggling, or get a lower grade that you expected on an assignment (everybody does at least once!), go talk to the professor about it. It puts you on his radar in a good way, so you're not just a name on a roster, one of many (most likely) who may be straggling. It also lets him know that you would like to do better. Be front and center and show that you want to succeed, and your teachers will take an interest in helping make that happen. That's what they're there for, and if they're worth their salt, it's their top priority as teachers to help YOU soar.


When I heard that my brother Jonathan and sister-in-law Jenn were hosting a "Bring Your Own Pumpkin" party at their home in California, I decided to copy their clever idea and do the same out here in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, it seems that not all my friends enjoy carving pumpkins as much as I do... some people came to the party pumpkin-less. We did end up with some good pumpkins at the end of the evening, though.

Chaz's nerdy computer pumpkin:

Krista's happy pumpkin:

Keith carved a baby pumpkin into a cool spiral:

And the snaggle-toothed pumpkin that Story and I carved together:

Of course, the next thing we had to do was pour a little olive oil over the seeds, add a little salt...

And roast... and eat...