". . . 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)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Why I'm Glad I'm a Lutheran

As I was out doing the grocery shopping this morning I drove by one of the larger churches in our town (large enough that its services are broadcast on local cable). The church's LED sign was flashing an advertisement for an event to be held there later this week. The title of the event--a class or seminar of some kind--was "God is my role-model."

My first thought was "how odd." Usually when I see this "how to be a good Christian" type of thinking the role-model is Jesus, not God. Jesus became fully human and walked on this earth with us, so it is much easier to make him into a role model for our own behavior. In fact this "be like Jesus" approach is the foundation for much of mainstream Christianity today (the obvious example is the "What Would Jesus Do?" movement that has swept through popular culture in recent years). Yet this church appears to have moved from exhorting people to be like Jesus to exhorting them to be like God.

My second reaction to this sign was pity for the poor people who will be attending that class this week. It makes me tired just to think about it. God is God and I'm not (we can all give thanks for that), and there's no way I can possibly be like Him, nor do I want to try. I'm too busy teaching and caring for my kids, doing the laundry, cooking the meals, cleaning the house, teaching my piano students, accompanying the choirs at church and writing my blog. I don't want to be responsible for hearing the prayers of the faithful and forgiving the sins of the repentant. That's God's job and I'm happy to leave it to Him.

But what makes me even more tired than the thought of doing God's job is the thought of trying to be like Him. For "in Him is no sin" (1 John 3:5), yet I am riddled with sin, drowning in it and unable to get myself out. Try as I might to do good and to be good (and believe me, I am really good at trying to be good), I daily fall and daily fail and have to look to God my Father to pick me back up again. And miracle of miracles, every day He does just that.

God is not my role-model. God in the person of Jesus Christ is my Saviour. This is why I am glad to be a *confessional Lutheran. Much of Christianity today teaches something called "works righteousness." This is the philosophy that a person can earn his way to Heaven by being good. Yet confessional Lutheranism teaches that we are "in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves"--that because we are born into sin and are by our very nature sinful there is no act of will by which we can escape our sinful condition. If we can't get ourselves out of the quicksand called sin, how can we possibly do the good we need to do to get to Heaven? Jesus provides the glorious answer: "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 6:9). Our Blessed Saviour pulls us out of the quicksand, replaces our dirty clothes with his spotless ones, and sets us before the Father, proclaiming us perfectly clean.

As I reflect on my own life I realize that I have spent much of it trying to be good. I was the child of an alcoholic, and my coping mechanism of choice was to try to do everything I possibly could to not rock the boat, to make things run smoothly. So I overachieved. I behaved myself, I got good grades, I tried to be liked by everyone . . . I became a pleaser. Probably some of that was in my personality anyway, but the situation in which I grew up magnified it. But guess what? No matter what I did, my dad would not stop drinking. It was beyond my control--I simply couldn't be good enough to make him stop.

I also can't be good enough to please my heavenly Father. But in confessional Lutheranism I have found that I don't have to be. Jesus, knowing my sin, lived the perfect life for me. Now all I have to do is jump on His magic carpet (as one of my pastors likes to say) and enjoy the ride. In the words of James Taylor (I know, he's not a Lutheran, but this is a great song), "Try not to try too hard; it's just a lovely ride" (From "The Secret O' Life").

*There are many branches of Lutheranism today. For a definition of confessional Lutheranism, go here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Another One Bites the Dust

I recently received word that one of my piano students is calling it quits. For the moment this young man is my oldest student, both in age and in tenure, but in a few weeks his piano career will end. If he follows the path of most people he will probably never take lessons again, which is a shame. He was not destined for a music career, but he had reached a level of reading ability and proficiency that most people never attain and that would have served him well as an adult. The problem is, without the pressure of a weekly lesson to make one practice, most people don't do so, and skills decline. Believe me, I know, because I don't take lessons anymore and I don't practice much these days! In my case I can get away with it because I am coasting on 18 years of study. Also, as a working accompanist I do still play a lot (albeit generally not the level of repertoire I peformed in college). But I fear that in a few years this young man will find himself saying (as I hear from so many adults these days), "I took lessons when I was a kid. I wish I hadn't quit. I can't play much anymore." Playing piano is not like driving a car or riding a bike. It doesn't come back to you after a 10-year interruption.

So why is this student quitting? High school. He will be attending a private high school this fall (he used to be home schooled), and his mother says that his schedule is such that he will be gone close to 12 hours per day. Then there's homework. Part of the time involved is the hour or more of commuting each day. He will also be playing football. But he played football last year and still managed to keep up piano (he did take a piano sabbatical for several weeks during football season). So it's not just the football. It's more than that.

High school. One of the reasons we have continued to home school even as my son has reached high school age is that we don't like turning our lives over to a school. I just don't understand why school needs to take so much time. When I was in high school, I showed up at 8:30 and left at 3:30 (by which time I had usually already completed my homework because there wasn't much anyway and I had time to do it during my 1-hour study hall and my 1-hour lunch period). I got home at 3:45 (granted, I only lived a few blocks from my high school) and proceeded to eat Twinkies and watch sitcom television. There was still plenty of time to do a few house chores and practice piano before supper (thus allowing more TV-watching time after supper). During my last two years, I even worked a part-time job at the local grocer. Was I able to do all this just because I went to a small rural high school, or have things changed since I was that age?

I think things have changed. I think that as educational bureacracy and funding have grown (be it public or private--they're birds of a feather in my opinion) and as public scrutiny of schools has intensified (I actually sympathize with the schools and teachers in this regard--there's really only so much they can do), schools have begun to put more demands on students and families, as if to say "See, we're doing more--we're working to raise those test scores and to justify all that money we're spending."

If my 14-year-old son were away from home 12 hours a day, leaving at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. and returning at 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. with homework yet to complete, what would become of the two hours of chess that he studies each day? Or the two hours of piano and voice that he practices? What would become of our morning devotions and our family meals (of which we already don't seem to have enough)? What would become of the time he spends playing with his little brother, reading for his own pleasure, and helping out around the house? How would he ever even consider taking on a part-time job?

These are things that we are not willing to give up. So for now our high school student will study at home, supplemented with outside instruction as necessary. His education may not be as structured as I might like, and there might be a few gaps here and there (I trust him to fill those in as necessary--life has a way of making you do that), but in the meantime I will still have the pleasure of knowing my son, and he will have a life that is richer and more well-rounded than it otherwise would be.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Why I Sleep Well At Night

Caitlin took Evan for a walk today. Of course, one never ventures outside without one's trusty sword. (Poor little crusader--Mom wouldn't let him take his shield since one hand must remain free to place in big sis's when crossing the street.)

(That's our house over Evan's right shoulder.)

I think the neighborhood can rest easy.

(Photos courtesy of Caitlin.)

Style Tag

Looks like there's a new meme making its way through the blogosphere. I was tagged by Glenda, to whom I express my sincere gratitude for giving me something to blog about that doesn't require a lot of thinking. (I'm just not in a thinking mood these days, so if you're looking for an intelligent post you better look elsewhere.)

Personal Style Quiz Rules: You have to choose one of the two. You cannot answer "neither" or "both." You can indicate that you like both or neither, but you must state a preference.

Animal fiber or plant? It depends! Already I don't like this quiz. But since I virtually live in jeans, I'll say plant (cotton).
Natural or synthetic? Natural, without a doubt.
Ornate or simple? Simple.
Color or neutral? This is hard. But thinking about my closet, I would have to say neutral.
Pastel or vibrant? Vibrant! Redheads (a group to which I theoretically belong) don't wear pastels well.
Blue/green or red/orange? Blue/green. Again, it's a redhead thing.
White gold or yellow gold? White gold.
Gems or texture? Not sure why these two are linked, but I choose gems!
Watch or no-watch? Watch. All the time.
Comfort or fashion? Comfort. Who cares about fashion?
Trendy or classic? Classic, also known as old-fashioned.
Cables or lace? I don't really wear either, but I'll choose cables. They sound a lot more comfy.
Heels or flats? Flats. It's that comfort thing again.
Flip-flops or sandals? Sandals. Flip-flops always fall off.
Skirts or pants? Pants. Starting to sound like a broken record, but it's all about comfort!
Geometric or floral? Floral, but it has to be the right kind of floral.
V-neck or turtle-neck? Again, I don't like these rules. I prefer round or scoop necks. But if I have to choose, I'll take v-neck. I could never stand turtlenecks. They make me feel like I'm being choked!
Skulls or butterflies? Hmmm, I guess this one has to do with what kind of tattoo I would get if I were so inclined? (I'm not so inclined.) Butterflies, definitely. We're talking symbols of life and death, right? I choose life.
Loose or snug? Loose. Comfort. (I'm so predictable.)
Long hair or short? I have had both and prefer long, although my definition of long is changing the older I get.
Headbands or barrettes? Headbands (but I only use one at night when I wash my face).
Shoulder bag or handbag? Shoulder bag. Have to keep the hands free to catch that 3-year-old!

That was easy enough. Thanks again for thinking of me, Glenda. Now I tag Lora, Kim, and Caitlin.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Happy Birthday, Kathy

I was born 43 years ago today. On that same day 43 years ago, my sister Kathy was celebrating her eighth birthday. It was not entirely an accident (my mother's labor was induced), but nevertheless in family lore I became Kathy's birthday present and her special little "buddy" (meaning she got stuck tending to me more than anyone else). I can't speak for Kathy, but from my end of things that "coincidence" has been a great blessing.

For those who might not know the details of my family background, here's the short version: my parents both had previous marriages. My father was a widower with four children; my mother was divorced with six. I was the one child they had together. Because my father was 15 years older than my mother, his children were also older, so there was never a time when all eleven children lived together. But our house still saw a lof of traffic during my younger years, so it was nice to know that I had a special "buddy" to whom I could turn (again, I can't speak for her!).

As we have gotten older and miles have separated us, Kathy and I don't see each other very often anymore. But that bond has always remained, and when July 23 rolls around each year I am again reminded of it. Over the years Kathy has been one of the most influential people in my life. One of the best words I can think of to describe her is indefatigable. For reasons that I won't get into too deeply, her childhood was not what it should have been. She had a father and then a stepfather (my dad) who in many ways failed her. She became a mother too young, and suddenly childhood was gone. Yet in the face of all of that I watched her do amazing things--things like building her own house and raising goats in the country, putting herself through school as a single mother and earning a college degree, and going through basic training and serving in the United States military. Kathy has always been one of those people who fills her life to the brim, never content to wait for things to come her way, but always seeking out what life has to offer. Her energy is boundless, her smile contagious, and her enthusiasm and sense of humor a true inspiration.

Here are a few of my memories of my sister that stand out in my mind:

1) Sitting with her at the dining room table making Christmas decorations (Kathy is a great artist--she always drew the best Santa Clauses).
2) The story she told me when I was 8 years old (and my belief in Santa Claus was faltering) about how she quit believing in Santa when she was 8 years old and as a result he didn't bring her an Easy Bake oven that year (hmmm, I wanted an Easy Bake oven when I was 8 years old, too--I kept on believing that year, and I got one!).
3) Watching Kathy as a young mother and learning from her how to take care of babies.
4) Her appreciation for Sonic limeades (an appreciation she shared with me and that I have ever since maintained).
5) Her faith--Kathy was one of the first people I remember who talked to me about Jesus.

Today Kathy's children are all grown and she is a grandma. She and her husband have their own cattle farm, and she also works as an elementary school teacher. Clearly my sister is showing no signs of slowing down. I may be eight years younger than her (sorry, sis--just had to get that in there), yet I wish I had her energy.

Happy birthday, Kathy--may our gracious Lord bless you with many more years of life, health, and happiness.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Theological Question

I'm hoping some of you who are way more theologically astute than I can help out with this one.

Today my 11-year-old took my 3-year-old outside to play. As they swang together in the back yard, the topic of conversation turned to heaven, and big sis explained to her little brother that "Heaven is God's house," to which little brother naturally asked, "Does it have a garage?"

So . . . any takers?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Two-Buck Chuck

Just came across this news item that one of our favorite brands of wine, Charles Shaw (revered in our house for both its quality and its bargain basement price), has stunned the wine-drinking world by winning first place in a prestigious California wine-tasting competition. You can read about it here.

Now I just have to figure out why we pay $2.99 for ours rather than the $1.99 quoted in the article!


We used to subscribe to the Chicago Tribune. We don't anymore, having cancelled our subscription several years ago following the death of President Ronald Reagan. At that time, my husband (a presidential and history buff) noted a significant factual error in the newspaper's prepared piece covering Reagan's life and presidency. The piece, certainly researched and written ahead of time so as to be immediately available upon Reagan's death, was attributed to one of the Tribune's lead reporters. As my husband read the article, he scratched his head in puzzlement at the unemployment figures that were quoted for Reagan's terms in office. He checked the figures against the U.S. Department of Labor official statistics and found them to be inaccurate. In spite of my husband's writing several letters to Tribune editor Don Wycliffe complete with supporting documentation from the Department of Labor, there was never any retraction or correction, nor was there a personal response from Mr. Wycliffe to my husband. We decided that whatever the reason--poor customer service, laziness, or intentional deception--this was a newspaper that did not deserve our money.

Since that time we have come to rely more and more on the internet as our primary source of daily news (we also receive several print periodicals). So even if the incident described above had never happened, we would have probably ultimately cancelled our subscription, if only to save money. But I must admit I sometimes miss walking outside for the morning paper and being able to physically hold it in my hands. On the other hand, the more I find out about what our major newspapers are up to these days, the more I am glad we don't subscribe to one. Here's a link describing how three of our country's most prominent large metropolitan papers have decided to legitimize Hamas by giving that organization a voice on their op-ed pages.

Galena Getaway

Last week our family had the golden opportunity to spend some vacation time in Galena, Illinois. This historic small town (pop. 3500) in the northwest corner of Illinois (right across the border from Dubuque, Iowa) boasts a beautifully scenic and peaceful setting (see below) as well as a variety of enjoyable recreational activities.

Due to the generosity of dear friends who offered us use of their vacation home, we were able to pamper ourselves at the Eagle Ridge Inn & Resort right outside of town.

Our accommodations for the week were staggeringly luxurious. We stayed in a 3-bedroom, 3-bath 2-story home with full kitchen, living, dining & office as well as jacuzzi, television, sound system, washer/dryer, and internet capability. We spent a lot of our week simply enjoying this beautiful home and reading, watching movies, and playing family games.

Of course, when you're surrounded by such beautiful countryside, you want to bask in it. So my husband took the two older children on a couple of long hikes, and we also took a few shorter nature walks with our youngest.

Vacation would not be complete without a couple of dips in the pool. The resort clubhouse had a nice one free of charge. In our several excursions there, we confirmed our long held suspicion that the child pictured below has no fear and must be vigilantly watched when around water.

In addition to the pool, the clubhouse also had a fitness room available for a nominal fee and a game room complete with arcade, board games, ping-pong, pool, and foosball. For the latter, we divided into teams: Mom & Trevor v. Dad & Caitlin. It was very close, but in the end Dad's prowess paid off and father & daughter won.

The Galena area offers many more opportunities for recreation than we were able to take advantage of due to either budgetary or time constraints, including historic tours, museums, boat rides, horseback riding, shopping and restaurants. But we did manage a trip into town for some gelato (Italian ice cream) and specialty chocolates.

We capped our visit with a trip to see old friends in DeWitt, Iowa. Meet the D. family! (Left to right are Michelle, Matthew, Troy, & Jacob.) Thank you all for the wonderful meal and fellowship. (Evan was so thrilled to have boys his own size to play with.)On our final day of vacation, I was the first to awaken. I stepped outside with my camera to enjoy the morning and take a picture of the house. To my amazement, at that very instant a doe and her fawn stepped out of the woods to the left of the house. As I fumbled with the camera they remained still, not seeming that afraid of me. I managed to snap these two pictures before they disappeared.

To our dear friends Tom and Elaine, thank you for making this week possible for us. You will never know what a blessing it was.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


If you follow political news at all, you may remember the story of Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress. He received quite a bit of attention last year when he announced his intention to take his oath of office on the Koran.

In case you missed it, here's what Mr. Ellison has been up to lately.


I know a lot of people who don't like Wal-Mart, and I respect their reasons for avoiding it and other similar "big box" stores. I personally shop there a lot because as our family struggles to survive financially in the high-priced Chicago suburbs, the prices at Wal-Mart make a huge difference in our bottom line (in our world even Target is often too expensive). But sometimes I wish I could afford to shop entirely at places like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.

However one may feel about Wal-Mart, here's something that they are doing that I find quite intriguing. I will be interested to see if any stores in our area are included in the test market for this new line of Biblical action figures. I have a three-year-old whose favorite toys are miniature soldiers and crusading knights (we call them "castle guys") and who is definitely the tactile-kinesthetic type of learner. So I am intrigued by the possibility of purchasing affordable action figures of Jesus, Noah, Moses, et. al. with which I can reinforce the teaching of Bible stories.

Fruits of the Earth

Our yard is a work in progress. (I guess everyone who has a yard would probably say the same thing--there is always more that can be done--but ours is most definitely a hard case.)

When we bought our house 7-1/2 years ago we didn't realize what in time became apparent: the aesthetic principle of our previous owners was Dionysian rather than Apollonian (in other words, they were planting fanatics who had no appreciation for the classical virtues of subtlety, order and space). If there was an open spot, they made sure to put something in it. Over time a lot of the things they planted grew beyond the space allotted for them. Eventually we realized that it was just too much to try to maintain and trim it all (and that it would be nice to have a little more yard), so over the last few years when finances have allowed we have slowly started removing things--a tree here, a shrub there. Problem is, when you remove a shrub without putting something in its place, you issue a standing invitation to every homeless weed in the county. So now in our yard we have some thriving weed patches.

Several of those patches are going to have to wait until there is money available to properly landscape them. One of the empty spots, however, called out to husband, saying, "Plant some herbs and vegetables in me!" So notwithstanding my negative nay-saying about how we don't have time to plant a garden, much less tend to one, he gamely insisted on purchasing a few herb and tomato plants at our local Farmers' Market last month and planting them in one of our empty patches.

We did no soil preparation at all other than clearing out some of the rocks (the previous owners were also fond of those red "lava" rocks, so much so that I don't think we will ever get rid of them all) and weeds. We just dug a few holes, plopped in the seedlings, and trusted the sun to work its magic. We do water but not as much as we should (sometimes we have to actually see the poor little things drooping sadly before we remember to do so).

Yet in spite of our total lack of experience with gardening and haphazard "by-gosh-and-by-golly" care, we have managed to actually grow, and even more amazingly eat from, our very own garden! We only have about eight plants right now (we could have probably fit 3-5 more in our tiny little plot), but they are not only surviving but thriving. And the bunnies and bugs have so far left them alone!

So like a proud mama, I have to show off our "children":

TOMATOES! (The photo is of a grape tomato plant; we also have a couple of cherry tomato ones.)

By the way, can you find the beagle hidden in the picture above?




We have already had several meals of pasta with pesto sauce made from our basil plants, and the chives are making a nightly appearance on our salads. The sage has been used to season pork chops as well as in a butter sauce for vegetables. Yesterday was the first day there were tomatoes ripe enough to eat (we picked four, so each of us was able to have a taste)--I'm counting on some daily pickings from here on out.

I have to give a nod to my husband (the visionary in the family), who as mentioned earlier was the one who decided that we should try our hand at gardening this year. Spurred by this small success, we are motivated to clear a little more space and do it right next year, complete with proper soil preparation and a border to keep out the invading grass.

Our little growing adventure has given me a deeper appreciation for all growers, particularly my father. When I was in junior high, my dad retired and we moved out in the country so that he could have room for a garden. I remember him growing all kinds of things--greens, cucumbers, corn, tomatoes, carrots, squash, and more--and then spending hours with my mom preserving some of his crop. Back then I didn't appreciate the time and effort involved nor the fact that I was enjoying some of the freshest and healthiest food I had ever eaten. I wish now that I had watched and learned more from them both and that I had been more thankful for the food that they were providing. I hope that as a result of our own gardening adventure our children will gain a deeper understanding of all that goes into the food that appears on their table, no matter where it comes from.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Thinking Bloggers

One of the fun internet memes that is making the rounds these days is the Thinking Blogger Award. In fact, this one is propagating so fiercely that it even showed up at my front door! I am honored to report that one of my fellow homeschooling Lutheran moms has identified my blog as one that makes her think. Thank you, Jane!

Now in good meme fashion I am supposed to share the honor by identifying the blogs that are most likely to make me think. Problem is, the very first ones that come to mind--blogs like Jane's (linked above), Susan's Pendulum, The Rebellious Pastor's Wife, and Elephant's Child--have already been pegged by others. And since I'm limited to five choices, and there are so many great blogs that I like to visit (just see my lists of favorites at right), I'm going to have to think a while before responding.

Oh dear, more thinking. And I owe it all to you, Jane!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mom & Dad's Day Out

Last week my husband and I enjoyed a rarity: an entire day to ourselves! Of course, I just happened to take along my camera . . . .

Our day began with a 7:30 a.m. slog through Chicago morning traffic to attend Phil's Composing for the Liturgy class at Concordia University Chicago. This was the final class meeting and consisted of singing and playing through all of the student compositions for the entire course. There were only four students in the class, but each of them composed a hymn concertato as well as an entire setting of the liturgy that included both ordinaries and propers. So there was a lot of music to get through. In addition to the students, there were several instructors as well as the music department secretary and myself present, so the students were able to hear their works sung by a group. It was very interesting to experience the widely varying responses to the assignments from the students in the class. And who can complain about singing hymnody and liturgy for three hours?

Once class was over it was on to lunch. Back in December our adult choir had presented us with a gift certificate to one of our favorite Chicago restaurants: Fogo de Chao. So on this day we had no trouble deciding where to go. Here I am standing outside by the restaurant sign:

Eating at this Brazilian steakhouse is truly a unique experience. Meat is roasted "churascarria" style over an open fire and carved tableside by "gauchos" who walk around the restaurant carrying various cuts of beef, lamb, and pork.

But while the hallmark of Fogo is the meat, the restaurant also boasts one of the best and most extensive salad bars in the city, featuring all of the usual items as well as such extras as an assortment of specialty cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, fresh salmon, prosciutto, asparagus spears, fresh green beans, tabouli salad, mushroom caps and more.

Once seated, diners are invited to indulge in the national cocktail of Brazil, the caipirinha. One of these drinks goes a long, long way!

After cocktails and salad, it's time to get down to business with some meat! To facilitate the serving process, each diner is supplied with a cardboard medallion that is used to signal to the gauchos whether or not he desires them to stop at his place. The red side of the medallion says "Nao Obrigado" ("No thanks"),

while the green side says "Sim Por Favor" ("Yes, please!")

When one is ready to "go green" he simply turns over his medallion and the gauchos appear, each one with a different cut of meat. The diner states his preference for rare, medium, or well done and then waits with fork ready to transfer the slices of meat to his plate.

Hmmm, Phil is looking pretty happy right now!

Happier still!

Side dishes at Fogo are not ordered but are automatically delivered to one's table. Pictured below clockwise from the top left are black beans, mashed potatoes (a nod to the Midwestern palates who must have them when meat is served), fried bananas (sometimes these are plantains--I guess it depends on what is available), and polenta. (As you can see, I didn't take this photo until we had already been eating for a while!)

After a long lunch, it was on to the main event. For our big birthday/anniversary splurge of the year (frankly, probably several years), Phil and I got tickets to see The Police in their reunion tour performance at Wrigley Field. I snapped this photo from our car as we drove by the venue but unfortunately at that moment the sign was flashing "Live in Concert" instead of "The Police."

We parked in the bus lot several blocks away and took the concert shuttle to Wrigley Field, arriving before 5:00 p.m. Since the doors were not yet open (the concert didn't start until 7:00 p.m.), we passed some time walking around "Wrigleyville." We were fascinated to see how many buildings around Wrigley Field have additional seating on the upper level and the roof so that events can be viewed even from outside the field.

Once inside, we took turns sitting in our seats in the sunshine and walking around the venue to cool off. We also made several pilgrimages to the one or two lonely water fountains we were able to find in the whole place, refusing to pay the $4 price for a bottle of water. When one of the snack vendors invited us to spend money at his stand, we refused and said we would eat when we got home. He agreed that home cooking is best and said that he personally was looking forward to some greens when he got off work. This led to a discussion of how best to cook greens (I think he was surprised to find that we actually eat them in our house, much less cook them from scratch!) and we walked away with a tip to throw in some smoked turkey wings (I usually season my greens with bacon or salt pork).

I regret that I have no photos from the concert or from inside Wrigley Field. Our tickets clearly stated "no cameras" so we dutifully left ours in the car, not wanting to be refused entrance to the concert. Imagine our dismay when we witnessed a group of young people snapping photos right outside the entrance in clear view of the ticket takers only to have those very same ticket takers allow them entrance following a bag search moments later. So much for following and enforcing the rules.

As we waited the two hours for the concert to begin, Phil and I enjoyed some rare uninterrupted conversation. But once the opening act began (a group called FictionPlane fronted by Sting's son), we high-tailed it to the vendor we had earlier seen offering $2 ear plugs for sale. I honestly could not believe how loud the music was. We have been to other concerts over the last few years--people like James Taylor, Bruce Hornsby and Elvis Costello--and the decibel level was loud but tolerable. This was unbearable. When The Police came out things improved slightly. I was happy to have the old guys take over!

Speaking of aging, it is ironic that in the days leading up to the concert I had fun telling friends that Phil and I were going to attempt to reclaim our lost youth by attending a rock concert. If anything, going to this concert drove home the point (as it seems everything does these days) that we are getting older. There were a few teenagers & young (college age) adults in attendance but the majority of the audience members were our generation or older. I'm sure they noticed my wrinkles as much as I noticed theirs. I also felt my years when Sting's son sang a song with several prominently placed profanities and all I coud think was "But your father is right backstage!" And as I passed time looking at the concert attendees I found myself shaking my head time and time again at the bizarre hairstyles, piercings, tattoos, and fashions (what is the deal with women intentionally displaying their bra straps these days?)

Then again, a lot of those things were sported by people as old or older than ourselves. On second thought, maybe I'm not old, just old-fashioned!

Monday, July 9, 2007

On Vacation

Hello from Galena, Illinois! Just a quick post to let my small but (I hope) faithful readership know that I am on vacation with family this week. Thanks to the kindness of dear friends who are letting us use their vacation home, we are enjoying some much needed down time in this beautiful part of our state. I do have a couple of blog posts in the percolating stage and hope to complete them as time allows. But at the moment other activities beckon. So please check back soon!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Costly Milk

Not long ago I wrote about the benefits of raw milk but bemoaned the high price. Now, however, as the average price for a gallon of milk is reported to be approaching $4, I'm wondering if we can afford to buy milk in this house at all!

Why is the cost of milk rising? As with most things there is probably a multiplicity of reasons. But a number of the sources I found attribute the price spike to the increasing demand for corn resulting from ethanol production. Rising demand for corn means higher corn prices. The majority of farmers feed their cows corn. When it costs more to feed their cows, farmers charge more for their milk.

Yet another reason to dislike the ethanol craze. Here are some more. And some more (see sidebar).

Hmmmm. The raw milk we buy comes from cows who eat grass, not corn. I'm going to hope our friendly raw milk provider doesn't see a need to raise his prices as well. And if the gap in price between raw and pasteurized milk continues to close, I will have yet another motivation to introduce more raw milk into our diet.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Master of the Table

Some years ago a former pastor and his wife shared with us their approach to family meals. We found great wisdom in their ideas and have tried ever since to incorporate them into our own family mealtimes. We find that when we follow these principles, listed below, our meals together take on an orderliness they would otherwise not have:

1) The meal is to begin and end with prayer. Prayer is led by the Table Master (see #2) unless the Table Master assigns someone else to do so.

2) Father is the Table Master. If Father is not present, Mother is the Table Master. If the Table Master desires, he or she can designate someone else as Table Master for the meal.

3) Once the meal has begun, no one leaves the table without requesting and receiving permission from the Table Master.

4) The Table Master designates one of those dining to be the Server. The Server has permission to come and go from the table as needed to meet the needs of those dining.

5) No one leaves the table until all have eaten, the closing prayer has been said, and the Table Master has dismissed the table.

Our older two children have grown up with these practices, and now we are trying to teach them to our youngest. (Truth be told, we have relaxed on numbers three and four a bit over the years but with a young and active three-year-old in the house are now trying to return to them in earnest.)

Recently we were sitting down to our evening meal when Evan, the aforementioned three-year-old, initiated the opening prayer by singing a song that he had learned in Sunday School:

"Oh, the Lord is good to me, and so I praise the Lord
For giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed,
The Lord is good to me. Amen!"

Because Evan delights so in this song, we have taken to using it as one of our mealtime prayers. But Evan's fondness for the song is such that he would like to use it as our opening and closing prayer at every single meal, and of late he has taken to initiating the prayer so that he can sing his song. Our response has been to try to help him understand that it is the Table Master who decides who is to lead the prayer and that therefore Evan can do so only when the Table Master asks. On this particular evening when Evan launched into his song, the Table Master gently informed him that he, not Evan, would be leading the prayer that evening. Evan promptly started to cry. The Table Master went on to explain to Evan that he, not Evan, is the Table Master and is therefore the one who makes these decisions, to which Evan (crying even harder) replied, "But I want to be the Table Master." He seemed at the time to be not merely angry or frustrated at having his will usurped but truly heartbroken at the full realization of his proper place at the table.

Poor Evan. Don't we all know exactly how he feels? For don't we all in our own way want to be the Table Master? Our first parents in the garden certainly did. Their Father gave them their very life and placed them in the most perfect possible home, asking only that they trust in Him to provide for all their needs as they sat at His table. But their greater desire was to become like the Table Master--to decide for themselves when they would approach the table and what they would eat when they got there. And we are no different in our own stubborn insistence that we know how best to govern our own lives.

Yet in spite of our repeated and failed efforts at self-determination, our Lord continues to patiently call us through the power of the Holy Spirit to fix our eyes on Him, the one true Table Master, trusting the nourishment He provides, speaking the prayers He gives us, and relishing our time at the table until He pronounces that the meal is done. For "in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1: 7-10).

Monday, July 2, 2007

Lutheran Carnival LIII

Lutheran Carnival LIII is now up at the blog of Barb the Evil Genius. Having only recently entered the blogosphere, I have also only recently discovered the concept of the blog carnival. If it is a new concept for you as well, click here to find out more. Then click on the link above and you will be able to enjoy some great Lutheran reading (including a submission from yours truly).

Taste of Chicago

Yesterday my two oldest children and I spent the afternoon at Taste of Chicago. This is an annual summertime event in downtown Chicago at which attendees can sample some of the best restaurant fare in Chicagoland. Along with the restaurant booths there are various attractions, including carnival rides, small vendors, musical acts, and street entertainment. Although we have lived in the Chicago suburbs for 7 years now, we only attended the "Taste" for the first time last year as the result of my son participating in a chess event there. Because of his national chess ranking, Trevor has been recognized by the Illinois Chess Association's Warren Program. Warren Scholars, as they are called, have achieved and held for a period of time a national ranking among the top 35 for their age in the country (Trevor is currently 20th for 14-year-olds). As a part of their participation in the program, Warren Scholars are eligible to receive financial assistance for chess lessons, and they participate in events designed to promote awareness and enjoyment of chess, especially among young people.

Thus our attendance at Taste of Chicago for the second year in a row. The Warren Program hosted a booth yesterday afternoon at which they provided casual play and instruction to passers-by. They also disseminated information about chess opportunities in Chicago and welcomed donations from anyone interested in supporting their efforts. So while my dear husband stayed home with the 3-year-old (because of the extremely dense crowds I don't recommend taking small children to this venue), Caitlin and I accompanied Trevor in hopes of enjoying some of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the day while he attended to business.

We couldn't have asked for more stunningly gorgeous weather. The temperature was ideal--70's in the sun, even cooler in the shade--and the sky was perfectly clear and blue. Here's a shot of downtown with some of the Taste of Chicago booths in the foreground:

Once we arrived, we had a long walk from the parking garage to our location for the afternoon. The chess event was held in the designated "Family Village" area, so we were close to the rides as well as to a "Fun Time Stage" with musical entertainment for children and families. The booth to which we were assigned is one which features daily events of interest to children; before we took up residence yesterday the previous occupants were making chocolate bears. In the photo below, the Illinois Chess Association logo is pictured hanging below the larger sign for the booth. In front of the booth are passers-by who have already started playing chess!

Once we arrived and set up, Trevor settled in for some games with both his fellow Warren scholars and anyone else who happend by that wanted to play.

He also took time to offer instruction to some young players.

While Trevor played chess, Caitlin did some reading under a nearby tree and studied the Taste of Chicago guide in an effort to choose a few foods to sample.

Then Caitlin and I braved the crowds for a few tastes. If this is what it was like yesterday, I can only imagine the crowds on July 4! Sometimes the crowd in the booth area was so thick it was hard to move.

We aren't much on carnival rides, but the Ferris wheel still makes a nice picture!

Street entertainment included robotic dancers covered in silver paint and this clown lady doing balloon art:

After Trevor completed his chess responsibilities, we did a bit more tasting. Among the three of us, we sampled such items as steak tacos, fried cheese, toasted ravioli, sweet potato salad, hummus shirazi (herb-tomato-cucumber salad over a bed of hummus), samosas (crisp patties with potatoes, peas, coriander and spices), Cajun meatballs & eggrolls (the eggrolls were filled will collard greens), spinach pizza, pizza bites, pierogies (semi-circular dumplings filled with potato, chicken or spinach and topped with sour cream), lemon ice, and chocolate granache. (It helped that the Warren scholars and their families were able to purchase discounted tickets.) We capped our day with a photo in front of Buckingham Fountain:

It is my selfish desire that Trevor remain a part of the Warren Program for years to come so we can maintain a good excuse to keep on doing this!


As a follow-up to my previous post, here are some interesting statistics:

1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
(Source: Jenkins Group, Inc.)

Feel special? You should. For more statistics about readers and reading in the United States, click here.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Ray Bradbury

Last month I blogged about reading Fahrenheit 451 for the first time. So it was rather timely to come across this article about author Ray Bradbury. When the 2007 Pulitzer Prizes were awarded not long ago, Bradbury received a special citation, the only author of science fiction to ever do so. The 86-year-old writer did not attend the award ceremony, claiming doctor's orders, but he later told an L.A. Times reporter that his real reason for not attending was that he would not get to make a speech. What would be the point of going only to shake someone's hand and smile for the camera?

In the same interview, Bradbury also states that Fahrenheit 451 has been largely misinterpreted over the years. According to him, the enemy in the book is not the government, but ourselves, and the real danger is not government censorship but public apathy, which is fed by television watching. In the novel the main character's wife refers to the people in the programs she watches as her "family"; the televisions themselves are called "walls" (she has three of them and is hoping to acquire her fourth). As I read, I pictured a kind of a virtual reality interactive television room with floor-to-ceiling screens to which one could literally escape and enter an alternative existence. Judging by the size and capabilities of some of the televisions I see in homes these days, Bradbury's vision for the future of television may not be far off the mark.

The effects of television watching have been debated by sociologists for years now. There are those who argue, like Bradbury, that it dumbs us down, numbs our brains, and stifles interest in reading. But as the L.A. Times article points out, there are also those who argue that television has in many ways proven to be a societal good--that it has great educational and information value when used properly, and that rather than discouraging reading it has encouraged some people to read who otherwise might not (due to movies and programs based on literature as well as book clubs such as that promoted by Oprah Winfrey).

Personally I think the "heyday" of television may be coming to an end. But it is being replaced by another type of alternative reality in the form of the internet. These days many of us spend time reading online that we might otherwise spend reading a book. As someone whose love for literature led me to major in English, I worry about that. At the same time, though, while I think the internet potentially has some of the same mind-numbing dangers as television, it also seems to me to have a much greater potential for good in encouraging people to write who otherwise might not. (Case in point: me. I have written more in the past month-and-a-half of blogging than I have in years.)

I think I'll take a break from the computer and go read a good book now.

A Pro-Life President

My title for this post is is stolen from Dr. Gene Edward Veith, who provided a link on his Cranach site to President Bush's remarks on his recent stem cell veto and executive order on future stem cell research. Below is Dr. Veith's post quoted in full:

"I know we conservatives are all running away from President Bush, but here is what a pro-life president looks like, vetoing the embryonic stem cell bill despite taking flak from all sides."

I'm one of those conservatives who has been less than pleased with some aspects of President Bush's administration. But his comments on this issue remind me anew of why it is critical that pro-life conservatives continue to insist on a presidential candidate who takes a strong pro-life stand rather than compromising our principles to get a candidate who we think can win. This will be a defining issue for me as I continue to study the candidates and their views in the year ahead.