Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dozing to Debussy

As I sat counting 33 measures of rest during a concert performance of Debussy's La Mer, my eyes wandered to the rows of audience members, many of them obviously dozing.

I laughed to myself as I thought that if I were in the audience rather than in the orchestra, I would be asleep, too.

Thirty-three, two, three, play.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Well, FavoriteBoy and I both survived Easter! He was very busy writing music for a brass ensemble and a handbell choir, and I was very busy preparing to host an after-church Easter celebration with our friends from church choir. I felt a little bit overwhelmed about cleaning and cooking for, well, quite a few people, but it all worked out in the end. Late Saturday night I sent my Mom the following email:

Dear Mom,

My apartment is quite clean, my shelves and knick-knacks and windowsills are dusted, my kitchen is shining, and the tables are set with gleaming china – well, nine place settings of china (which is all we have), and the others of regular everyday dishes. Napkins are in silver napkin rings, and the flatware is polished to a shine. I have a hazelnut brown butter cake draped with chocolate ganache on a platter, and a buttermilk pound cake on my glass cake stand in the kitchen. Sixty-four homemade rolls are sealed in ziplock bags awaiting tomorrow, and a potato casserole is in the refrigerator needing only to be heated up. Four dozen hard boiled eggs are in the refrigerator. (And I am REALLY glad that we have a full-sized refrigerator this year instead of a tiny one!) Sixty-six plastic eggs filled with candy are hidden in the living room of the apartment, and you can’t see any of them without really looking!

Holly and her mom were the most wonderful helpers, and so much fun to talk to while we worked. I feel almost completely ready to have everyone come over after church. All I have to do tomorrow is put away a last few things, cook the ham, make a salad, and cook the asparagus. Holly’s dad is making squash. Friends are bringing ice cream and fresh berries to go with the cakes.

Just thought I’d let you know that things are turning out okay after all. :)


We crammed seventeen people into our little apartment for the Easter festivities, which included egg-dying, a candy-filled plastic egg hunt, dinner, and dessert.

Here's a picture of the dinner table - well, one of the two tables we used! (See the two Steinways in the background? Uh-huh, that's right... two Steinways!)

Monday morning, FavoriteBoy and I slept until about 11, and it was everything we thought it would be. And probably by the time next Easter rolls around, I'll have forgotten the worry and stress and I'll be ready to do it all over again.

By the way, all the music FavoriteBoy planned and wrote turned out wonderfully. I got to play in the service this year, too, since the choir sang 'Worthy is the Lamb' from The Messiah, and you can't do 'Worthy is the Lamb' without violins. Everything was very beautiful and celebratory, and I couldn't have been prouder of FavoriteBoy.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Cleaning for Jesus

FavoriteBoy and I are hosting an after-church Easter celebration at our apartment this year, like we did last year, but this year I'm cooking dinner for 15 instead of 10. With all the chaos of getting ready, it's easy to start feeling like I don't have the time to pause and think on the events of Holy Week as I ought to. If only I had a few minutes to read my Bible; if only I had more time to pray...

As I was dusting the windowsills and bookshelves yesterday, it occurred to me that this isn't such a bad way to spend Holy Week. Putting away clutter, sweeping up dustbunnies, rubbing at windowpanes - letting more light come in, and making room for brightly colored hidden plastic eggs to take the place of the grey dust in the corners. Cleaning up a life as much as one small person can, and getting ready for the dazzling whiteness of Easter.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Bach Birthday

In addition to being Good Friday, it's also J.S. Bach's birthday today!

Here's a Bach piece that I've been practicing lately... now if only I could play like Hilary Hahn!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

How to Annoy Me

Hey receptionists of the world - working at doctors' offices and optometrists' offices and banks and everywhere else - guess what? I am not that old, but many of you are still younger than I am. That and the fact that you don't know me means that you shouldn't be calling me "honey" or "hon." And definitely not "sweetie." Are we clear on this? Okay, thanks.

Zucchini Brownies

Last week FavoriteBoy graciously offered to stop at the store on his way home from work and pick up a few things I needed - even though those things were mostly vegetables, and FavoriteBoy hates vegetables! As he was putting two zucchini into a bag for me, he told me over the phone, "My grandmother used to make zucchini brownies, I think. And I really liked them." Naturally, since I'm always looking for ways to get some veggies into Nathan's stomach, I jumped at this opportunity. "Make that four zucchini, not two!" And as FavoriteBoy came home with the groceries, I began looking for a zucchini brownie recipe. I found a basic recipe, and from there I made my own adaptations to make the brownies healthier: using coconut oil and applesauce instead of vegetable oil, reducing the sugar by about 1/3, using partly whole wheat flour, etc.

The results were surprisingly delicious, although a bit more cake-like than brownie-like. And while FavoriteBoy wasn't quite impressed, the brownies were a big hit at a movie night with friends, where people commented on how much they liked a dessert that wasn't quite so sweet - and how they were glad they didn't have to feel too guilty consuming a brownie!

Sarah Marie's Chocolate Zucchini Brownies

1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup white sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 zucchini, finely grated (about 2 cups)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9x9 inch baking pan.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the coconut oil (melted), applesauce, vanilla, and sugar. In another bowl, combine the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; stir into the oil and sugar mixture. Fold in the zucchini and mix until the mixture becomes moist. Spread batter evenly into the pan.

3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until brownies spring back when gently touched or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow brownies to cool somewhat before cutting into squares.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Don't Kvetch; Have a Knish!

At the annual county fair in the town where I grew up, there was always a food booth for Jewish foods, and my family and I loved to delve into their hot, flaky, flavorful knishes. Over the past week, potatoes were on sale at the grocery store, and I found myself buying a five pound bag and lugging them up the stairs into the apartment with the intention of making my own knishes. What's not to love about a savory potato and onion dumpling? I investigated a variety of recipes and settled on this one - but for half of the flour I used whole wheat, and I used less oil than the recipe called for. The flavor of the knishes was wonderful, but the recipe made significantly more dough than filling - next time I would double the filling. Here's a sample of the finished products:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Biscuits and Gravy

Saturday morning at the home of Mr. and Mrs. FavoriteBoy usually means two things: sleeping in, and biscuits. At some point shortly after we were married I prepared biscuits for breakfast, and Nathan just loved them. He requests them weekly now, and I enjoy both making them and watching him devour six or seven, usually smothered in gravy.

(After Saturday morning breakfasts, I spend Saturday afternoons praying that Nathan won't have a heart attack.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wonder Woman

Yesterday I discovered that I am a superhero in disguise.

Yesterday I woke up at 7:30, and I wasn't tired. And I didn't have a headache. For a minute I was afraid that if I moved, I might jinx something, but I did move, and I got out of bed, and my body didn't ache. I have no idea what made the difference - it wasn't gluten; I avoided gluten carefully for three weeks, but when I didn't see any difference in my health at all, I stopped eating gluten-free at the recommendation of my doctor. In any case, yesterday I felt absolutely fantastic. I found out that my public school teaching for the afternoon was cancelled, so I had the entire day before me. And guess what I accomplished?

I cleaned the ceiling above the flight of stairs that leads up to our apartment, and then I repainted the entire ceiling, as the old paint had ugly brown water stains from a formlerly leaky roof. I finished two coats of paint by shortly after noon.

I vacuumed the staircase and all of the inside of our apartment.

I mopped the kitchen floor.

I washed the previous night's dishes, put them away, and scoured the kitchen sink until it shone.

I organized my kitchen cabinets, and my linen cabinet, and the cabinet where I keep laundry and cleaning supplies.

I washed, dried, folded, and put away two loads of laundry.

I cleaned the bathroom.

I tidied the bedroom.

And by 4:30 things were neat and clean, and I was showered and dressed and ready to teach a first violin lesson to a new student. We made Bow Hand Bunnies together and imagined peanuts perched on our violins and said little rhythmes, and by the end of the lesson the student was holding her violin with beautiful posture and playing simple rhythms on her open strings with a nice bow hold and a very straight bow.

FavoriteBoy got home from work and exclaimed, "Something's different! You look so great and happy and the apartment looks amazing!"

And I simply replied, "I found out that when I feel good, I'm Wonder Woman!"

Interview with an Atheist

If you can get past the cheese of the "Moonlight" sonata playing in the background, this video is very thought-provoking.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fiberful from Trader Joe's

Have I mentioned that I'm passionate about fiber? Really, I am. Some people, like my dear husband, can eat pizza every day for years and still feel great and stay healthy. Other people, like myself, have to eat the right foods to feel good each day. If I don't eat plenty of vegetables, I can feel a difference. If I have refined sugar, I'm pretty sure it contributes to my headaches. If I don't get enough fiber in my diet - and guess what? Most Americans don't! - my tummy isn't very happy with me.

About a year ago I started to follow in my Dad's footsteps and take Yerba Prima psyllium husks each day to supplement my dietary fiber intake. I usually mix it into my morning fresh fruit smoothie, but sometimes if the day's end is drawing near and I haven't had it yet, I just stir it into a glass of water - blech.

If you're actively trying to get 30 grams of fiber each day like you should, you've probably noticed that it isn't always easy. That's why I was so ecstatic to discover Fiberful Fruit Leather at Trader Joe's on Monday. It comes in Apricot and Mixed Berry, it's all natural with no added sweeteners, and each small piece of fruit leather contains a whopping six grams of fiber! Best of all, it's delicious and you'd never guess there was psyllium seed packed in there. At $0.40 a piece, it's not a cost-effective solution for daily fiber intake, but it makes for a great occasional snack or treat.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Purpose-Driven Wife?

A few evenings ago FavoriteBoy and I sat on the couch and I poured out my thoughts to him. The topic: The Future. Now, The Future is not a topic that is always welcomed in our household, as thoughts of the unknown can bring on tremors, chills, and panic in either one of us; however, sometimes The Future must be faced and discussed. And so it was that I explained to Nathan how I felt that there are several roads open to me and I'm not entirely sure which one(s) to take.

Should I continue my part-time teaching job in the public schools next year, or should I focus entirely on private teaching? Should I pursue Suzuki teacher training, or use a different model of music education? Would the effectiveness of Suzuki training be largely limited to working with young students, and if so, is that really what I want? Would a master's degree enable me to teach high school or college violinists, and is that something I want? Working in the public schools can be frustrating - lack of parental involvement, kids who won't practice, low standards, low pay - but is it something I should be doing anyway? Am I making a difference in the lives of the kids I teach? And what should I do about the student who skipped class for eight weeks in a row, leaving me to assume she had quit, and then showed up last week? She stood alongside the other students who were playing Ode to Joy and Lightly Row, unable to hold her violin or bow correctly or even name the open strings of the instrument. Should I kick her out of class, or pity her - the girl whose Mom has no car, whose clothes are always dirty and hair is always unwashed, who seems to have a genuine interest in music but just doesn't have the family support structure to follow through on that enthusiasm with consistent practice - or any practice at all? Is working only as a private teacher too high-brow, essentially limiting myself to working with students whose families have money, time, and obvious investment in their children? Or could I be meant to do exactly that, and is that just as noble as working with less privileged students?

With a weighty sigh, I finished by asking Nathan, "What is my calling?"

FavoriteBoy gazed into my eyes lovingly and said, "To make cookies for me to eat! Don't worry, babe."

Cookies, you see, have nothing to do with the frightening unknown. They are chocolatey and warm and familiar and very much in the here and now, and FavoriteBoy loves them.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Farewell to the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Student

Some of you may remember the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Student I've written about before. Well, he told me last week that he's decided to "take a break" from lessons for a while until he can absorb the things he's already learned. I have an odd feeling I might not see him again. And I probably shouldn't feel as relieved about this as I do.

You know what bothered me the most about him? It actually wasn't his terrible intonation, his scratchy sound, his out-of-control bowing, or even the way he never fully listened to me - although all those things did give me headaches! The thing that bothered me the most was that he was looking for a quick fix. Week after week he asked variations on the same questions, and it became apparent that he was hoping for a single piece of information that would eliminate the need for plain old repetition and practice. A long time ago we reached the point where, when reminded, he knew how to hold his bow correctly, how to move his hand, wrist, elbow, arm, and shoulder to draw a straight bowstroke both down and up, and how to practice slowly for intonation. It just didn't matter that he knew these things, because he wouldn't take the time to do any of them, ever. And that was what drove me crazy.

He wasn't interested in following a progressive course of study, in learning scales or new repertoire - he wasn't even interested in devoting serious study to his beloved fiddle tunes and working to turn his dreadful renditions of them into something recognizable. I gave up trying to give him assignments or see progress from week to week; each week I just fielded more of the same ridiculous questions. And sometimes they were really, truly ridiculous ones:

"Should my left hand be in this position, or this position?" he'd ask, demonstrating first playing a note with his fourth finger on the G string, and then playing a note with his fourth finger on the E string. "It can't be one or the other," I'd reply. "You're showing me two very different scenarios: the placement of the fingers on the G string and the placement of the fingers on the E string, which necessitate a different position of the elbow and a different curvature of the fingers. If you have a question about two different hand positions, you need to show me the two versions on one string so I can tell a difference." He refused, saying again, "this, or this?" and demonstrating on two different strings.

Here's another recent scenario that had me fuming:

"Okay, your second finger was better in tune that time, but your fourth finger is still consistently a half-step flat. Make sure to reach a whole step from your third finger to your fourth finger."

"It's not flat," he'd reply. "It doesn't sound flat to me."

"Play your open string and see if you can hear the difference in pitch," I'd instruct. "Your open string is an A, and your fourth finger is playing an A-flat."

"Well, I can't reach any higher."

Now, theoretically when the fourth finger is used, in most cases is it a good rule of thumb to have the first, second, and third fingers resting on the string beneath the fourth finger. However, the THNGVB student did not do this correctly no matter how many times he was reminded, so the matter of "reaching higher" was completely non-existent. There was nothing to reach from. His fourth finger and only his fourth finger was down on the string, so he could easily and freely move it by an octave, much less a half-step. I explained this to him, that nothing was hindering his finger from sliding a half-step highter and being in tune, because he wasn't keeping his fingers down, but again he refused to believe me: "I can't reach any higher than that. It sounds good to me right here."

He was so argumentative he even argued about things entirely unrelated to the violin. Upon finding out that I taught in Topsfield one afternoon a week, he said, "Oh, that's a bit of a drive from here."

"It's not bad," I replied, "It usually takes me about twenty minutes."

"Twenty minutes?!" He exclaimed, "You must be speeding the whole way! It takes me thirty or forty minutes to get to Topsfield!"

Seeking a logical explanation, I asked him, "What route do you take?"

"Oh, I take route 97 the whole way there."

Now, route 97 is a back road winding through the woods. I explained that I took the main highways - a much more direct and fast way. Logical, right?

But he spent the next five minutes complaining about how I must be a speedster, an irresponsible driver, and how there was no way to get to Topsfield in under 30 minutes.

Like I said, I probably should be feeling some remorse about the THNGVB student taking a break from lessons...

...but I am feeling pretty fabulous.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


I [hearted] Huckabee.

I guess I will have to get used to the idea of casting a vote for John McCain.

Not that McCain's wins (or Huckabee's losses) come as a surprise, but...

I'm okay with supporting underdogs and seemingly lost causes. And sometimes those underdogs come out on top. You never know.


Hey, it's National Sleep Awareness Week! And just to celebrate the occasion, I've come down with a nasty sore throat and head cold, meaning I'd like to sleep a lot. Unfortunateley, this coincides with a busy week - I'm playing in the pit orchestra for a production of Fiddler on the Roof, with rehearsals or performances almost every evening all week.

If one can't be asleep, I suppose Fiddling is a nice way to spend one's waking hours.

Better Minds Through Music

I wonder if this study could convince a few of my delinquent students to practice more?

Or perhaps more likely: I wonder if this study could convince the parents of my delinquent students to remind and help their children to practice more?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Healthy = Bad

I had roasted broccoli, raw red pepper, and curry roasted chickpeas for lunch today. FavoriteBoy the picky eater came into the kitchen and kissed me, wrinkled up his nose, and declared, "You smell healthy. That's a euphemism for bad."

Saturday, March 1, 2008

"The Talk"

Sometimes I just love teaching my public school violin classes. Like when Hannah, Olivia, Brianna, and Rebecca crowded around me the moment I arrived last Wednesday and, lowering their voices, clamored woefully, "We got our puberty packets today in school!"

"I have to hide mine as soon as I get home," said Brianna. "If my dad finds out I got this, he'll want to have," and here she made quotation marks in the air with her fingers, "the talk."

"My mom wouldn't want me to know about this stuff," Olivia said, with a worried expression. "She says I'm small for my age and don't have to worry about this kind of information yet."

"It could be worse," Rebecca chimed in, "at least we don't have to watch the video until next year!"

"I've known about puberty for ages," declared Hannah with all the authority of a world-weary fifth grader. "But if my parents knew I knew, they'd freak."

While I suppressed a laugh, I couldn't help remembering myself not so very long ago hoping desperately to avoid a similar embarassing "talk" with my parents!

I told the girls that I was pretty sure their parents would be glad to answer any questions they might have, but I'm not sure they believed me. All the same, I took a bit of delight in the way they confided in me. It's nice to be a part of the lives of so many children.


Steaks were on sale at Stop and Shop. I'm afraid of cooking steaks, but nonetheless, I bought a package of two and decided it was time to give it a try. I made them last night with a rather simple "recipe" - olive oil, kosher salt, and crushed rosemary. I cooked them in a pan on the stove - seared them on high heat and then cooked on medium for 4-5 minutes a side. I served them with saffron rice, broccoli, and cauliflower - and with trepidation. FavoriteBoy pronounced it among the best steak he had eaten in years! (And let's just say he doesn't praise food he doesn't truly enjoy, as evidenced by the gagging face he made toward the vegetables on his plate...)

I feel so accomplished. I can cook steak!