". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Pet Peeve

One of my fellow Lutheran homeschooling blogger moms (boy, that's a mouthful) recently wrote a post on what she called "grammar Nazis." Okay, I admit it--I tend to be one of those. I blame it on too many years of teaching English. And maybe just a wee bit of obsessive compulsiveness. But please understand--I don't pick on people's casual conversation (when it comes to speaking extemporaneously I can hardly string five words together without using a verbal crutch or saying something incomprehensible) and I don't pick on everyday communication (there are different rules for that). It just seems to me that when someone is writing for publication or spending huge sums to buy advertising space or getting paid big bucks to make sense on television, he or she ought to be able to use the language correctly (or be smart enough to pay a good proofreader or copywriter).

Anyway, I was watching one of the talking heads on Fox News yesterday (at least as much as I can watch when I'm trying to get dressed and groomed for the day and there's a three-year-old running around the bedroom) when I heard yet again a phrase that I have noticed getting misused a lot these days: "begging the question." In classical rhetoric, to "beg the question" means to assume without proof the truth of the very conclusion one is trying to argue. It is a logical fallacy and is similar to circular reasoning because what it essentially does is to take the argument in circles, relying on synonyms and re-assertions rather than actual proof. Here are a few examples:

"You can believe me because I don't tell lies."
"Capital punishment is wrong because it's murder."
"All respected scientists believe in global warming."

In each of these sentences the desired conclusion is presented as its own premise. This is fairly obvious in the first two examples, especially if we restate them as follows:

"You can believe me because you can believe me."
"Capital punishment is wrong because it's wrong." (Murder is by definition wrong, so to say that capital punishment is wrong because it's murder is equivalent to saying it's wrong because it's wrong. The real question, which is being avoided, is whether capital punishment fits the definition of murder.)

The trick in the third example is more subtle, but careful consideration reveals a form of circularity because the definition of "respected scientist" is assumed to be one who believes in the very thing that is being promoted.

The problem with all of these is that premises of arguments need to be supported by evidence unless they are assumptions that everyone can accept as truth. So to use a conclusion as its own premise "begs the question" by taking that conclusion (the question that is being debated but that has not yet been proven) for granted--assigning it truth which it has not earned (thus the word "begging"). (This is a difficult concept, but it helps me to imagine a plaintive little premise begging a confident-looking conclusion for acceptance into the proven conclusion club. If I had an ounce of artistic talent I think I could make the picture in my head into a great cartoon!)

"Begging the question," then, really has nothing to do with asking a question. Yet that's what everyone on television these days seems to think. I constantly--well, perhaps that's a bit of an overstatement--I frequently hear people use the phrase "begs the question" to mean "asks the question" or "makes one ask" or "makes one wonder." The particular exchange I heard on Fox News was a discussion of the poor parenting skills of Britney Spears and Rosie O'Donnell. (In case you missed out on this breathtakingly consequential story, Britney got in trouble some time ago for driving her car with her baby in her lap; Rosie is getting grief right now for putting a video on her blog of her 4-year-old dressed up like a terrorist.) The commentator or anchor (I don't remember which) was comparing Rosie and Britney and said something along the lines of, "We know Britney was negligent in driving a car with a baby in her lap, but that begs the question of whether her behavior rises to the level of intentional exploitation that we are seeing with Rosie." The phrase "begs the question" simply makes no sense in that sentence if you try to apply the correct definition of the term.

So this is the sort of thing that keeps me up past midnight blogging. Hmmm, maybe I need to expand my horizons a bit. On the other hand, if this post resonated with you or if you simply enjoyed it, let me know and I might consider making it a regular feature, complete with submissions from readers (thanks, elephantschild, for the idea).

Update, June 28, 2010: The Wikipedia article on begging the question identifies the incorrect usage of the phrase outlined here as a "modern usage" that many now accept as correct. I guess I'm more of a prescriptive than a descriptive grammarian, because I disagree. "Begging the question" is a rhetorical term with a precise definition that ought to be respected.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What the World Eats

My husband sent me this link from Dr. Joseph Mercola's nutrition website. It is a fascinating photographic study of the dietary habits of families from different parts of the world. Each family is pictured surrounded by all the food they purchased and ate in a typical week, and the amount they paid for that food is given below the photo. As I studied the photos, several thoughts came to mind:

1) Compared to many of the families pictured, I guess we are not doing too bad with our eating! We are also spending way less per week on food than most. So while I have been wringing my hands in recent years over our rising family food budget, I guess I should relax and listen to my husband, whose motto is that spending money on wholesome, healthy food is one of the best investments we can make.

2) I found it intriguing to study not only the food in the photos but also the families themselves and their demeanors and surroundings. Thus, I couldn't help noticing that in spite of their comfortable living space and a formidable array of food, several of the more modernized, "Western" families just don't look very happy. On the other hand, the family that struck me as having the most joyful appearance was the Ayme family of Tingo, Equador. Their home is literally constructed of mud and straw, and their food expenditure for one week was $31.55. As best I can tell from the photo, they subsist on plantains and other fruits, leafy vegetables, potatoes, rice, and raw milk. They look robustly healthy and happy, but not overweight. There are seven children in the photo. Hmmm, I think a lot of Americans could learn about true happiness by looking at this family.

Monday, June 25, 2007


In our family's ongoing quest for better nutrition (see previous post), one of the things that we have been learning more about is the milk we drink. As with fats, it turns out that the commonly accepted wisdom is incorrect. While our parents (and generation upon generation before them) grew up drinking raw milk straight from the cow, most people today were raised on homogenized, pasteurized milk. Touted as one of the greatest scientific advances of the 20th century, pasteurization is the process of heating milk to high temperatures to kill potentially harmful bacteria. But the problem is it also kills a lot of good stuff, too. And pasteurization certainly doesn't guarantee safe milk, because the basic problem was never raw milk to begin with but dirty milk, and research shows that contamination can occur in any milk supply, raw or pasteurized.

Here is what we normally drink.

Right now I can buy it at Jewel for about $2.28/gallon. (That price reflects a "sale" that has been going on for months, but customers are only allowed to purchase two gallons at a time. The going price for a gallon of milk around here is actually $3.00 or more, but Jewel is apparently using milk as a draw to get people in to the store on the assumption they will then buy other things.)

Last year as we learned more about what pasteurization does to milk and also became concerned about hormones and antibiotics used in factory farming that make their way into the milk supply, we switched for a time to Oberweis milk. Oberweis is a family-owned Illinois dairy that prides itself on purchasing milk only from family farms that do not use synthetic growth hormone. Their milk is sold in glass bottles, and home delivery is available, so there is an element of nostalgia. And although the milk is pasteurized, Oberweis claims that they use a lower-temperature method which results in a better tasting product.

While I personally couldn't discern a difference in taste, several members of my family could, and because I highly desire to make my family happy, I deferred to their desire that I add an Oberweis stop to my regular shopping excursions. But as time went on it became harder to justify the additional expense (Oberweis milk is slightly over $5/gallon) and I found myself increasingly lured back to the lower price and convenience of the supermarket milk. There just didn't seem to be enough of a difference between the Oberweis and the Jewel milk to merit paying almost twice as much for the former.

Yet we still found ourselves questioning the overall nutritional value of pasteurized milk. Research also suggests there are negative effects associated with homogenized milk. So last week with the encouragement and aid of some friends who have long been making raw milk a regular part of their diet, we finally brought home our first gallon to try:

I don't exactly know what I was expecting, but I must admit I was surprised that the raw milk came in the same type of plastic container we get from Jewel. I was also surprised to find that I could discern only a minimal difference in taste (again, I don't know what I was expecting--maybe that raw milk would taste more like a cow?) For fun we did a blind taste test, and I was able to pick out the raw milk, but I'm not exactly sure why. I expected it to be markedly richer and creamier, but it really wasn't. There is a slight difference in color, as demonstrated below (the raw milk is on the left, store-bought on the right).

Probably the biggest difference--once again--is the price. This lone gallon of raw milk cost $7. At that price it is akin to liquid gold, making waste and spillage totally unacceptable. Thus my idiotic behavior whenever anyone decides to drink some: "Don't pour more than you can finish!" "Are you sure you want that much?" "Make sure you drink it all!" "Don't you dare spill that!"

I don't know, but there is something questionable about a mom who almost hates to see her kids drinking the milk!

I'm not sure where our milk odyssey will end up. I do believe there is a strong argument for making raw milk a staple of our diet. But we simply can't afford to drink it exclusively. So we will probably continue to drink the $2.28 milk from Jewel and to supplement with occasional raw milk purchases, hoping to glean at least some of the nutritional benefits that are there. In Illinois and many other states it is illegal to sell raw milk (the federal government prohibits it across state lines, but each state makes its own laws for intrastate commerce), but the raw milk providers here have figured out a loophole: they sell you a "share" of a cow and then simply charge "delivery" for the milk that already "belongs" to you. (Some states have specifically addressed and closed this loophole, but for the time being it still exists in Illinois.) Our raw milk sample was provided to us by friends who regularly purchase it; if we decide we would like to purchase it for ourselves on an ongoing basis, we will have to buy our own share of cow (I believe this will cost $50) and then be willing to place a $30 minimum order to have it delivered semi-weekly to a nearby location.

If you are interested in finding out your own state's laws regarding the drinking and selling of raw milk, click here. For more information about the benefits of drinking raw milk, go to http://www.realmilk.com/

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Healthy Eating

For the last few years in our family we have been trying to develop a healthier diet. Almost all of us suffer from environmental allergies (whether the 3-year-old will follow in the family tradition remains to be seen), and one of us struggles with some challenging gastroinestinal issues. Even if we were not faced with those two facts, we could certainly all benefit from better nutrition. So in our pursuit of that goal we have been reading and studying and trying to learn as much as we can about the food we eat. As a result we have changed our dietary approach in several major areas, settling on some general principles that we don't follow "religiously" but which we try to incorporate as much as possible depending on time and finances.

1) We are trying to use more natural methods of sweetening. This means avoiding artificial sweeteners such as saccharin (Sweet & Low), aspartame (Equal) and sucralose (Splenda) as well as processed sugars and corn syrups. We are doing pretty well with the artificial sweeteners, but cutting out the latter two is proving to be harder. Have you ever noticed how many products in the grocery store have high fructose corn syrup? Try it sometime--you'll be amazed. (Then, if you're like us, you'll start to wonder why, and you'll discover that it's because high fructose corn syrup is a much cheaper sweetener than plain old sugar, which is subsidized by the federal government. Problem is, high fructose corn syrup is a lot less healthy.) We have by no means eliminated this substance from our diet. It is just so pervasive--in our catsup and mayonnaise and salad dressings, etc.--but we have curtailed it. We now buy pure maple syrup instead of the faux stuff, peanut butter that only has peanuts in it, 100% juice, and jam that is 100% made from fruit. Gotta start somewhere, right?

2) We have completely changed our attitude towards fat. The science that has motivated us to do so is too complicated to go into here, but we have become convinced that much of what we have been told in our lifetime regarding fats is just plain wrong. So after years of eating margarine and vegetable oil, we have eliminated both of those in favor of real butter and peanut, coconut, & olive oils. We have learned that lard can be our friend!

3) We are trying to buy and eat more locally, having become concerned about some of the chemicals and processes associated with factory farming (e.g. pasteurization, genetic engineering, growth hormones, pesticides, and abuse of antibiotics). We recently discovered our nearby farmers' market and are making a visit there a regular part of our week. We simply can't afford the cost of many organic and free-farmed products, but have decided for certain staple foods it is worth trying to find room in the budget. For example, we now buy cage-free eggs, not so much out of concern for the chickens (although that is a nice side benefit) but because they are a lot less likely to make us sick. It's nice to enjoy a sunny side up egg once in a while! We are also investigating local sources of milk (more on that in a future post). Finally, for the first time we are trying our hand at growing some fresh herbs and vegetables in our back yard (can't get much more local than that!).

4) We are trying to replace at least some of the white flour in our diet with healthier whole grain products (whole wheat bread and pasta, long grain rice, steel-cut whole oats). Again, it is extremely difficult to avoid all white flour--it is pervasive, and I must admit I have a weakness for it. But the fact is it just does not have a lot of nutritional value (which is why my husband likes to call it "candy bread"). Of course, the whole grain products are harder to find as well as more expensive, which is one reason some of my friends make their own bread and pasta. This is something I can't quite see myself doing right now, but maybe some day.

We have never been much on "junk food" such as chips and pop, but what we have discovered of late is that much of the typical American diet has just about as much nutritional value as those kinds of things. We hope that the above changes in habit as well as a more concerted effort to cook from scratch will help us to move away from a merely "typical" diet and toward a truly healthy one.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Equal Time

It has come to my attention that when I posted photos a few days ago I neglected one esteemed member of the family: Stormy the hamster! To correct that oversight I have asked Stormy's owner to sit in as guest blogger. Here without further delay are her observations:

Stormy is a Siberian Dwarf hamster. Little does she know that soon she will be famous. She doesn't even know what famous is! She just eats, runs on her exercise wheel, sleeps, plays, and is cute. Just take a look:

I might add that Stormy is simply the coolest hamster in the world. When we got her at the pet store the salesman warned us that sometimes hamsters can be "nippy." Not so this hamster. She is truly sweet and cuddly (well, as cuddly as a hamster can be), and she has ingratiated herself to all of us. But it is clear to the whole family which one of us she prefers!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gas Update

I filled up with gas again a few days ago--only $64.50 this time! Previous fill-ups were $70 and $66, so I think I'm beginning to see a trend! (My signal to get gas is when the low fuel warning light comes on, so I think I can trust that these numbers reflect comparable levels of emptiness.)

Chess camp is over and all the choirs are winding down for the summer, so I'm expecting this most recent tank of gas to last a while. Fill-up was four days ago and I still have over three-fourths of a tank remaining, so maybe this time I will actually make it two weeks on one tank.

Hope springs eternal!

3-Year-Old Wisdom

Today as we were having lunch, my 3-year-old (see previous post) looked at me across the table, smiled, and lovingly announced, "Mommy, you're a nice old person."

Gee, thanks, honey . . . . I think.

I'm sure he meant it in the best possible way.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Summer Fun

Here are some recent pics of the loves of my life (the younger set, anyway) enjoying some backyard fun:

It's not much as pools go, but they don't seem to mind.

Boy, that water was cold!

Big brother prefers to relax in the swing with a good book.

Shiloh the beagle wonders why we don't do this more often!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Iraq & Immigration

Here is some of the best analysis I have seen on the two issues that are currently commanding America's national attention:

Senator Joe Lieberman offers an encouraging report on his visit to Iraq.

Peggy Noonan (this woman is brilliant) considers Americans' attitudes towards immigrants and immigration.

Friday, June 15, 2007

My Tax Dollars At Work

Evidence that perhaps my local government officials have a little too much time (and money) on their hands (or maybe they've been hanging out with Shel Silverstein):

Romans 1:16-17

"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'"

So began Pastor Todd Wilken's Bible study at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois this past Sunday morning. What a fitting theme from the host of a radio program that seeks to defend and teach "grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone on account of Christ alone" while challenging "today's postmodern culture with its unbiblical and illogical ideology" (from the KFUO website).

In his teaching on this passage from Paul's letter to the Romans, Pastor Wilken first directed the class's attention to Paul's introduction: "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God--the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord" (1:1). Pastor then made the point that one might expect a missionary who is going after as big a "catch" as Rome to spend some time building up his credibility and laying out some references, especially in a time (not unlike our own) when there were plenty of false teachers around simply interested in taking people's money. But Paul does nothing of the sort. Instead he briefly identifies himself and then immediately goes to talking about the gospel, essentially saying (in the words of Pastor Wilken) "if you want to know what I'm all about, let me tell you about Jesus."

One of the things that I so appreciated about Pastor Wilken's preaching and teaching was his ability to make the abstract concrete--to take a theological concept and turn it from head knowledge into gut understanding. Taking note of how central the words "the gospel" are to this opening chapter of Romans, he asked the class for a definition of those words. The consensus was that they mean "good news." Then Pastor shared how when he was young he wondered why it was only "good news"--not "great" or "awesome" or "spectacular" news. It's an interesting question for us today who have elaborate rating systems for everything from books to movies to school report cards. And when you think about it, he's right: "good" is frankly not a very strong recommendation. As Pastor Wilken put it, if you were considering eating at a new restaurant and asked a friend who had been there for his opinion and were told by that friend "It's good" you would probably not make a beeline for that restaurant. You want a great restaurant, not just a good one! So why is the gospel merely "good" news? Isn't the truth of Jesus Christ the best news in the world? The answer, of course, is that when it comes to our God there is no middle ground. There is no "poor, fair, good, excellent, superior"--only "good" and "bad." We have either been made righteous in His sight or we haven't. Our Lord is an all or nothing God.

Pastor Wilken then asked the class about the definite article "the." Why is it "the" good news? The answer is simple: the news of Jesus is quite simply the only good news there is. Everything else is bad. To illustrate, Pastor described the scene at his house when he gets home from work: lovely wife preparing dinner, children greeting him at the door, family dog lavishing him with affection, Pastor settling down in his chair to unwind from the day. What could be better than an idyllic homecoming such as this one? Yet without Jesus Christ in the picture, even that perfectly lovely scene becomes a horror movie because it is all for naught, a tragic picure of condemned sinners biding their time in this world with nothing to look forward to in the next. As Pastor Wilken so aptly pointed out, it is a picture that makes you want to hightail it to church to hear the gospel!

On the Sunday of Pastor Wilken's visit to our congregation the high school students joined the adults for Bible study. As I listened to Pastor's teaching I studied the faces of some of those young people present. They were absolutely riveted. These were young people who have grown up in church for the most part, have been confirmed, and have heard about "the gospel" for years. But I think they, like all of us, were stunned to think about all the good things in their lives--the family and friends and comfortable homes and nice possessions and hobbies and activities and more--and to realize that without Jesus in the picture none of it is good at all. As is written in Ecclesiastes, it is all ultimately meaningless.

But praise be to God, it doesn't have to be! "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith, from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'" Writing that last statement on the board, Pastor Wilken rearranged the words slightly so they were in this order: "The one who is righteous by faith shall live." Then he suggested that the word "faith," both here and in other places in the Bible, could be replaced by the name of Jesus: "The one who is [made] righteous by Jesus shall live." We are made righteous through our faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that is created and sustained by Him alone, and in Him we find our life and eternal salvation. Indeed that is good news, the only good news that we really need! Alleluia!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


I filled up my van two weeks ago. It cost $70. My goal was to try to make it for two weeks on that tank of gas. Well, I didn't make it. Yesterday was the 2-week mark, and I had to get gas the day before yesterday. And after three days in a row (and two days remaining) of driving my son to the other side of Chicago for chess camp, I'm certainly not going to make it two weeks on the current tank. At least it only cost $66 to fill up this time. I can't believe I was actually happy to see that number.

Between my driving and my husband's, I think we're going to have to look at taking in a boarder just to pay the gasoline bill around here.


My husband is going to school this summer. He's taking a class called "Composing for the Liturgy" at Concordia University-Chicago (formerly known as Concordia University-River Forest).

The irony is that he has been a parish musician for close to 20 years now and has been composing for the liturgy for almost as long. He has several compositions, including a hymn and two canticles, in the Lutheran Service Book, the new hymnal of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (my Lutheran friends can find them on pages 261, 486 & 929). And he is co-owner of an online music publishing company called Liturgy Solutions (see link at right), a company that includes in its bevy of composers one of the instructors of the very class my husband is now taking!

So what is he doing taking this class? Although he is an experienced parish musician (his official position is cantor), he was not trained in a synodical institution. He did not go to music school with the goal of becoming a church musician but imagined that with a master's degree in piano performance he would make his living through a combination of performing and teaching. But as I wrote in a previous post, God had other plans. Church music found him, and here he is 20 years later with a degree in church music from the School of Hard Knocks and On-the-Job Training.

But our society likes credentials and pieces of paper. So when my husband accepted his current position he agreed that he would also pursue a colloquy, which is kind of like a synodical certification or stamp of approval. That process was put on hold for a few years because until recently our church body did not offer a colloquy program for parish musicians and my husband would have instead had to pursue a teacher colloquy, not the best use of his time considering his job description. But the synod has now created an official, rostered position called Director of Parish Music, which means there is also a colloquy program for it.

I think if you were to ask most of the powers that be at our church they would say that no, Phil doesn't need a colloquy to be a better cantor. But the pastors have their collar, and the day school teachers have their synodical certification, and there are those who would think it unfair to excuse the cantor from a similar requirement. So off to school he goes. For us there is a benefit in that once he gets 10 additional hours of continuing education, there will be a bit of a salary bump. And I don't mean to suggest there will be no academic benefit. Certainly there are things he can still learn, and he will enjoy the exchange of ideas that comes from being in a college class. I'm also sure his presence there will benefit others. But in the meantime we have to pay half the cost of his tuition and all the cost of his gas as he travels to CUC three times a week for the next month. And he has to spend a lot of time meeting the requirements of the course when he could be planning worship services for next year, cleaning out his office, or hey, maybe even spending time with his family.

I must admit it was fun to send him off to his first day of class in "Composing for the Liturgy" wearing his official "Liturgy Solutions" polo shirt! I also enjoyed hearing about how one of the student handouts that day was a "Liturgy Solutions" copyrighted piece!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Issues, Etc.

The nationally syndicated Lutheran radio talk show Issues, Etc. broadcast live from Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois last night. My sweet husband stayed home with the children so I could attend (he could tell I was in need of a night out of the house). Here are a few photos from the broadcast (sorry they aren't better quality). From left to right in both are Jeff Schwarz, executive producer of the program; Dr. Andrew Steinmann, professor of theology & Hebrew at Concordia University-Chicago and last night's guest; and Pastor Todd Wilken, program host.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Two Firsts

I experienced a couple of firsts today. And although they had nothing to do with each other, I think they will be forever and inextricably linked in my memory.

Number one, I was privileged to see and hear Pastor Todd Wilken, host of the radio program Issues, Etc., in person for the first time. More on that in future posts. For now, let me just say WOW. What a blessing he was to Bethany congregation as he proclaimed the Lord's Word of Law and Gospel today.

Number two, as I was sitting in Pastor Wilken's class during the education hour, I for the first time had the experience of being summoned to the Sunday School department because one of my children was causing a disturbance. Let me back up here and say that I have three children, ages 14, 11, and 3. I have been a mother for over 15 years. I have on multiple occasions had to leave worship with a squirming or screaming baby. But I have never had to leave my own Sunday School class because one of my children would not behave in his class. (And to be honest, I didn't have to today either. Thanks, honey, for handling this one.)

By the way, for those of you who have met or know anything about my children, you might have guessed that the child in today's story is my three-year-old. I think it's going to be an interesting 15 years!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Terrible Wave

If you are looking for a great summer "read," here's one to consider. Written by Marden Dahlstedt in 1972, it is a work of historical fiction which chronicles the devastating Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood of 1889. Some of my homeschooling friends may recognize it from the Sonlight catalog, where it is a Level 4 reader. In our house we used it as a readaloud, and all of us were spellbound from the very first chapter. The book is based on stories the author's grandparents told her about living through the flood, and the majority of it covers only a 72-hour period, beginning just moments before the wave hit on May 31, 1889.

In addition to being simply an exciting and suspenseful story, this is a book that opens the door for all kinds of interesting discussions. People are shown reacting in a variety of ways to the impossible circumstances in which they find themselves, and as in real life, some exhibit extraordinary bravery and selflessness while others use the occasion to pursue self-interest. Several times as our family read, we found ourselves thinking back to the Katrina disaster and remembering similar stories of heroism or the lack thereof. It made for some intriguing ethical questions concerning what is acceptable behavior in a survival situation. The book could also provide a starting off point for making sure your family has a plan in case of a catastrophe: "What if something terrible happened and we were separated from one another?"

Another significant theme of the book is that of class stratification. The main character, a young girl named Megan Maxwell, is the daughter of the richest man in town. Finding herself separated from her family in the aftermath of the flood, she encounters a fascinating assortment of people of all ages and walks of life that she would have never met if not for the flood. She grows and matures immeasurably, and her life is enriched and changed for all time as a result.

Finally, my Lutheran friends should have a special appreciation for this book. The Lutheran church figures prominently as a motif, and the Maxwell family's maid is a German Lutheran woman named Hulda who regularly breaks out into hymn: "A mighty forr-t-ress iss our Gott. A bull-vark neffer fay-yel-ling. . . ."

Maybe everyone has already read this and I'm late to the party. But if you haven't, it's definitely worth adding to your list.

Friday, June 8, 2007

The Best Job in the World

My friend and fellow homeschooling blogger Susan recently linked to a website that calculates whether it is worth having a second income in the family after taking into account all of the expenses generated by that second income. After reviewing the list of costs typically incurred by the second wage-earner, I have concluded that I have one of the best part-time jobs in the world. I am a self-employed musician who teaches piano lessons in the home. Not only do I enjoy it, but there are almost no associated costs.

Transportation? The piano students come to me. Professional wardrobe & make-up? Try jeans & the "natural" look. Child care? It's called "Big Brother & Sister Free Babysitting Extraordinaire." Stress relievers? Frankly, there is very little stress associated with having nice young people who appreciate music show up at my house to play the piano. Okay, maybe it's a bit stressful when the house is a disaster and the three-year-old is running around without any pants on! But my preferred stress relievers--specialty coffee, dark chocolate and an occasional glass of wine--are things I would indulge in anyway, and the second income helps pay for them.

The website identifies several job-related costs that are perhaps less obvious, such as "guilt" expenses (things you buy for your children or spouse to compensate for not spending time with them), and lack of economizing (the inability to comparison shop due to lack of time). I think my family would attest to the fact that working part-time has not had the least effect on my tightwad sensibilities--I am as cheap as ever. Finally, the website raises the question of whether second-income families find themselves paying more for home costs (cleaning, maintenance & repair) than they otherwise would, again due to lack of time. Homeschool family that we are, I have a built-in cleaning service. As for the home repairs and maintenance, my husband and I find ourselves hiring out a lot of that stuff anyway because of our woeful lack of talent in such things, so again, the second income only helps.

In addition to teaching piano, I also work as the staff accompanist at our church. So I get paid to attend several choir practices per week--adults and children--and play for them when they sing for worship. This is a job? Gathering with people I like, listening to their beautiful voices as they sing God's word, and attending church--which I would do anyway--to facilitate their music?

Like I said, the best job in the world.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

GOP Debate

The Republican candidates debated again on CNN last night. At our house we chose to play Monopoly rather than watch, but this morning I was able to view some excerpts. Based upon that viewing, Mike Huckabee is still my favorite of the "second tier" candidates. He had a great line when he identified his hometown as Hope, Arkansas but pleaded with the public to "give us one more chance." He disappointed, however, when asked his opinion about evolution. Although he explicitly stated that he rejects evolutionary theory, he backed away from a golden opportunity to publicly embrace the 6-day creation, saying that he believes in a God who created the universe but doesn't know when or how or how long it took. On the other hand, I have to give credit to the frontrunners for their willingness to stand up for their beliefs, whether it was John McCain doggedly supporting President Bush's immigration bill (the only candidate to do so), Rudy Giuliani continuing to hold fast to his pro-choice position (however wrongly), or Mitt Romney saying that although some Republicans would like to see him back away from his Mormon affiliation, he will not do so. I may not agree with the beliefs of these men, but I respect their willingness to stand by them even when it may not be politically expedient to do so.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

GOP Wives

A few days ago I wrote about Greta Van Susteren's interview with Cindy McCain, wife of Republican presidential candidate John McCain (see "Campaign Season" below). Apparently I wasn't the only one who noticed the "revealing" nature of the interview. Moreover, it would appear that Mrs. McCain's fashion choices are not particularly unusual among the wives of those seeking the Republican nomination:

GOP Wives

FDR's D-Day Prayer

Tomorrow marks the 63rd anniversary of D-Day. Newt Gingrich has launched an effort to encourage radio stations around the country to play the prayer offered by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on that day. Here in its entirety is the text of the prayer. I think his words are particularly poignant in light of current events as well as when one considers the unlikelihood that any of the current field of Democratic presidential candidates would utter similar words:

“My Fellow Americans:
Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far. And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces. And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Disappointing Decision

One of the best elements of Concordia Publishing House's new Growing in Christ Sunday School Curriculum is the catechism memory songs included on the student CD. These songs provide musical settings of Luther's Small Catechism with the goal of assisting memorization of the six chief parts and their meanings. The songs are excellent: child-friendly yet musically fresh and interesting enough to appeal to all ages. We have used them in our home devotions and as someone who never had to memorize the Small Catechism--I was confirmed in the Roman Catholic church and became Lutheran after marrying one--I have found them personally helpful in my own learning. I sincerely hope that every Sunday School teacher in synod is utilizing them in the classroom.

Full disclosure: my husband is to date the sole composer for this project and is slated to see it through to completion some time next year. So that this not appear to be a commercial plug, I want to state for the record that his compensation is on a stipend, not a royalty basis. Upon completion and approval of a song, he is paid for his work and it becomes the sole property of CPH, with no further remuneration based on sales.

When he was first brought on to do this project, it was my husband's understanding that the songs would be an element of both the lower and upper grade Sunday School curriculums. Since we have a daughter in fifth grade, we were therefore surprised that she was not provided her own recording of the catechism songs for home listening. We wondered if perhaps her Sunday School teacher was not distributing the CD's. Upon further investigation, however, we were dismayed to find out that although the catechism songs are included on all the teacher CD's, CPH ultimately decided not to include a CD in the student packet for the upper grades, apparently as a cost-cutting measure. So some of the children who could most benefit--those approaching Confirmation study--are not receiving the tool they need to do so.

Luckily, our family has unusual access to the songs: the composer lives with us! And I also understand that CPH ultimately plans to release the entire song cycle as a separate package. In the meantime, if you would like a copy of the catechism songs but your church is not using the Growing in Christ curriculum or your child is not in the right grade to have received his own CD, you can obtain a CD by ordering either the "Lower Grades Student Stuff" package or the "Teacher Tools" kit (the teacher CD includes not only the songs but also files that allow printing of musical scores for the songs). Here's a link:

Growing in Christ

Disillusioned but Hopeful

I am finally ready to admit it. As fine and sincere and good-hearted a man as I believe he is, this president has failed terribly. In case you missed it, here is the best summary I have seen of the point to which he has brought us:

Too Bad

Now, here in my opinion is the current best hope for a restoration of true conservative leadership in this country:

Fox News Sunday

When I watched the Republican candidates debate several weeks ago, I was hoping to find at least one candidate that I could embrace not only for his leadership ability but also for his principles. That did not happen. Candidate Giuliani has the first of these but not the second. Several of the other candidates (McCain, Romney, Huckabee) seem to have elements of both, but none yet strikes me as comprising the total package (in time I could change my mind). Yet every time I see Newt Gingrich on television or read his writing, I am newly impressed by his brilliance and his willingness to speak the truth. I also respect that he has not yet announced his candidacy, waiting to see if another candidate emerges who is willing and able to effectively represent the GOP's conservative base.

So far that hasn't happened. If Fred Thompson announces, maybe it will. But if not, I'm counting on Newt.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Farmers' Market

Blogging infant that I am, I have not yet tried uploading photographs to my posts. Today provided a perfect opportunity to do so, as it is the opening day of the Saturday morning Farmers' Market in downtown Naperville. So armed with cash and my digital camera, Phil and I woke up early, downed some Caribou coffee, left the sleeping 3-year-old in the care of his big brother and sister, and went shopping.

After quickly scoping out the available offerings and agreeing not to buy more than we could consume in a week, we set about making our selections from the wonderful array of choices. Here's Phil breathing deeply of some fresh herbs (note the snazzy shirt):

Here I am getting a taste of fresh-picked strawberries:

And here's our take for the morning: some cherry tomato, basil & sage plants (we've decided to try a small garden in the back yard), broccoli, asparagus, red leaf lettuce, collard greens, onions, and a round roast (hope springs eternal--wish me luck with cooking the thing).

We passed on the strawberries this time around, although they were delicious, and we skipped some yummy looking sugar snap peas because we already had some in the fridge. We also passed up the African coffee, local honey, & various canned items (boy, that cash ran out fast). Hey, all the more reason to go back next week!

Friday, June 1, 2007


A few nights ago I sang "Jesus Loves Me" to my 3-year-old. It was certainly not the first time I have ever done so, but I think it was the first time in a while that I have sung to him all three stanzas (at least the three stanzas I know):

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me, He who died
Heaven's gates to open wide.
He will wash away my sin,
Let His little child come in.

Jesus loves me, He will stay
Close beside me all the way.
If I love him, when I die
He will take me home on high.

After I finished singing, Evan beamed at me and said, "Mommy, Jesus will take me home." I affirmed that yes, indeed, Jesus would take him home, and we talked about how right now we are living in our earthly home but that some day Jesus will take us to our forever home in heaven. As we continued the nightly bedtime ritual--stories, kisses & prayers--Evan several more times interrupted the proceedings to announce again, "Mommy, Jesus will take me home." And in the last few days he has come to me over and over to state, "Mommy, Jesus will take me home." I wish I could bottle the look on his face as he speaks these words: I find myself humbled by the pure trust and joy that I see there.

Evan has a pretty nice home here on earth. He has plenty to eat, a warm bed to sleep in, a dog to play with, a bedroom full of toys and books, a swingset in his back yard, and a long list of people who love him dearly. He has few worries, knowing that Mom and Dad will provide for all that he truly needs. So I find it remarkable how quickly he latched on to the idea that he has another home beside this one, that it is a place he wants to be and that Jesus will take him there. Yet why should I find it so remarkable? Evan is one of Jesus' little lambs, baptized into his Saviour's holy name, and he recognizes his Shepherd's voice. Even now, at the tender age of 3, there is something within him that knows that his true home is not of this world but with his Saviour in heaven, and he longs for the day when he will see that Saviour face to face. May each of us look with that same childlike anticipation to the day that our Lord will gather us in His arms and take us to our forever home.

"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:3)