Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Deep in the Heart of Texas

We arrived in Texas last Wednesday afternoon, leaving the cold and snow (yes, snow!) of Jordan behind us. Our trip to Houston was uneventful except for the serendipitous meeting of a friend in the Paris airport. She was coming from Turkey, on her way home to Houston, and was on our flight. (Turns out she attends a church right near the campus where Oldest Daughter will be auditioning this week and we will be able to connect during the week.)

Passing through immigration at the Houston International Airport, we waited in the foreigners line with our friend who flew from Amman with us. Compared to the US citizens line, the foreigners line was so somber and quiet. Yes, Americans are, in general, loud, compared to rest of the world, a fact that doesn’t chagrin me anymore as I’ve recovered from my Ugly American complex. And we watched a great Welcome to the United States video as we waited in the immigration line. Lots of smiling faces. Americans are friendly. And Texans are very friendly. Within an hour of our arrival two Texan women had not only answered questions for me but had also offered me their phone numbers in case I might need more help in the future!

From Houston, we drove to Austin. Travel advisory: Don’t plan to drive three+ hours in a strange place after 24 hours of international travel. I had overlooked the fact that I would have been up for nearly two full days with just a couple hours of airplane sleep. Add to that mix, rain, and a dark sky for most of the journey and, all things considered we probably should have spent the night in Houston. By God’s grace we made it to Austin about ten at night, and that only with frequent rest (literally) stops.

A dear friend, a lovely Texan woman who recently moved from Amman, hosted us in Austin, generously cooking us yummy meals, showing us around, and introducing us to catfish (melts in your mouth) and hushpuppies ( a sort of southern falafel made with cornmeal instead of chickpeas). Austin seems a lovely city, though we didn’t take a lot of time to see it. Oldest daughter needed to keep up her practice regime before her audition last Saturday.

And though we didn’t tour the entire UT campus (40 acres), we did visit the music building twice. On Friday night Oldest Daughter had a consultation with the professor whose studio she auditioned for. I was reminded anew that application to music school at this level is not for the faint of heart. The admission process is three-pronged: Oldest Daughter must be accepted into the university, into the school of music, and into the studio of a particular instructor. The first two are fairly straightforward, however it is the last level which becomes very competitive. Oldest Daughter felt the audition went well, however no indication is given by the jury, and results will not be known until March. For the years and years of hard work, prospective students have but ten minutes to demonstrate their ability.

By Saturday night, post-audition, Oldest Daughter and I were pretty exhausted, both physically and emotionally. How wonderful it was to go church on Sunday morning and be encouraged by God’s Word and the fellowship of His people. Not to mention singing praises to Him, declaring His faithfulness and sovereignty. There are so many opportunities for fear and anxiety to gain a foothold but we were reminded anew of His perfect goodness.

Today we returned to Houston where we’ll be staying until next week. We find ourselves again enjoying the hospitality of yet more friendly Texans, whom we have just met for the first time (they are friends of friends). We are staying in their “quarters”, a lovely studio apartment above the garage. Oldest Daughter’s next audition is Friday. Thanks to those of you who are praying for Oldest Daughter. We appreciate you all!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Congratulations, Eagle Scout

Last Friday evening, Active Son earned the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America, passing his Eagle Board of Review with flying colors. Being out of town, I had to hear by email how the head of the Board of Review, a fellow Eagle Scout and military atache with the US embassy, called Active Son and my husband in after the Board was dismissed to give Active Son further words of commendation and praise. Warmed my mother's heart, all the way across the ocean.

Active Son has had the privilege of being involved in a stellar Boy Scout Troop which, since it began about five or six years ago, has produced five Eagle Scouts with two more about ready to earn the Eagle rank. These two scouts will join Active Son in his Eagle Scout Court of Honor this spring.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Art...and Economics

Younger Son/Artist Son sold his first piece of artwork yesterday. A family friend commissioned him to do the colored pencil drawing below for his horse loving wife's birthday. My photo doesn't really do his art justice; we all enjoyed watching, as he worked on it the past several weeks, adding layer after layer of color.

Besides helping him to advance in his drawing technique, this commission allowed Artist Son to learn a little bit about the business side of being a professional artist. He had to pick out matting and frame, and then return to the frame store when the matting wasn't cut precisely. He also had to put a monetary value on his work. I was a little sad to see this beautiful picture leave the house but I had Artist Son's first pastel picture (below) framed at the same time and it now displayed in our family room.

When Artist Son received his pay for the horse picture, Active Son suggested that he start saving it now and that if he kept selling his artwork he'd have quite a bit saved for college. Older daughter, who, like the rest of our family has been privy to hours of college financial aid banter, dissented. She advised Artist son that it wouldn't pay to have college savings and that it could very well decrease his chances to receiving financial aid.

Since I have recently begun reading Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, motivated by cyber-friend, Cindy's, reading and discussion posts, I recognized Oldest Daughter's comment as bad economics, albeit, economics she had heard promoted, to some degree, in our home (Not that we have purposely not saved a big chunk of money to pay for our children's college tuition. We just have not purposely done it.) We've all heard it said before but Hazlitt so clearly explains why "there is no such thing as a free lunch." All credit is debt--someone's debt.

As a business major, I took three semesters of economics in college. Unfortunately, I remember these as some of my most boring classes. I'm sure I picked up some vocabulary and concepts along the way, but I honestly can not articulate what I learned. Sad. I mostly remember furiously taking notes as my professor drew multitudes of graphs on the chalkboard.

And though the entire book is work reading (I'm admittedly only in chapter six, but it is very enlightening so far--lots of plain old common sense), Hazlitt really does, in the first chapter, distill the most important concept into one lesson:

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."

In other words, bad art, economically speaking, is man acting impatiently and selfishly. Now that is something I can understand, relate to, and agree with. Maybe my college professor mentioned something about the nature of man and how it related to all those charts, but if he did, I missed it. I look forward to reading more...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Sopa Ranchera

Christmas Break (which we're extending until January 7th) is a great time for my culinary creativity to be refreshed as I take the time to try a few new recipes. Here is a one for a delicious winter soup. My family liked this so much that I made it twice in one week--and I'm making yet another batch to add to the growing stash of freezer entrees that will keep Dear Husband and the kids fed while Oldest Daughter and I are on our audition trip.

My inspiration comes, again, from The Best of Cooking Light. I followed the recipe pretty closely except for:

-I omitted the zucchini because I didn't have any and my dear children said not to bother going out to get some. It wouldn't be missed.
-I used leftover roasted potatoes and chicken. This worked so well that when I made it again I pre-roasted some chicken breasts (olive oil and cajun spice mix) and potatoes.
-I doubled the oregano and tripled the cumin
-I added some red pepper flakes--about 1/2 tsp for a double batch.
-I added extra garlic
-other alterations are noted within the recipe

Other than that, I followed the recipe closely ; )

Oh, and I never, ever make a single batch.

Sopa Ranchera:

1 tsp. vegetable oil (I use about 3 T olive oil)
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
6 cups chicken stock (I used 7 cups vegetable stock)
1 3/4 cups cubed peeled baking potato
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, drained
2 cups shredded (I diced) cooked chicken breast
1 cup frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed (I used one can of corn)
3/4 tsp, salt (I omitted as my stock was salted)
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced-about 1 1/2 cups (I omitted)
1 cup diced tomato (I used one can cooked, diced tomato)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

grated cheddar or montery jack cheese
sour cream
lime wedges

We don't have any reduced fat options on the dairy products so our finished dish probably wouldn't meet Cooking Light standards.

Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onion and saute' 3 minutes. Add oregano, cumin, and garlic, and saute' about 1 minute. Add stock, potato, and chickpeas, bring mixture to a boil, and cook 5 minutes. Add chicken, corn, salt, and zucchini, and cook 5 minutes. Stir in tomato and 1/3 cup cilantro, and cook 2 minutes.

First Wildflower Sighting of the Season

Cyclamen persicum

Peeking out from under pine needles and dead leaves I spotted the first cyclamen of the season as we hiked on New Year's Day with friends. The delicate flowers were very small--perhaps an indication that more rain is needed.