". . . 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)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Lost and Found

We attend (and my husband is Cantor at) a Lutheran church with a day school (preschool through eighth grade). Over the course of any given year, various items accumulate in the church and school's "Lost and Found" box: shoes, coats, jackets, snowsuits, hats, scarves, gym clothes, etc. Right now there are still many unclaimed pieces of clothing remaining from last school year, so in an effort to identify the rightful owners they have been placed in a central location near the entrance of our church building with a sign stating that if they are not claimed by next week they will be donated to charity.

As I glanced through the accumulated items after choir practice last night, several thoughts came to mind. First, although most of them are sized for children or youth, there are also a few things in adult sizes, so it is not just the kids who are losing or misplacing their belongings. Second, the quality of many of the items is such that I can't believe they have been left unclaimed. Quite a few of them are brand names that due to price we would not even be able to consider purchasing. Moreover, in our house the loss of a coat or jacket would be a huge issue: each child has one light fall jacket and one heavy winter coat, and we try to buy them big enough to last several years. If one were lost, there would be an exhaustive search to find it, which if unsuccessful would likely lead to the owner's relinquishing allowance money until a new coat was paid for.

Our kids know this and as a result do a pretty good of keeping track of their things. I guess one benefit to having only one coat or two pairs of shoes or three pairs of jeans is that when something is missing you notice it right away!

Get In, Newt!

My husband, who is as cutting edge an individual I know when it comes to political news and current events, received this piece of information in his inbox yesterday:

"Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) may have concluded that Thompson is a flop, thus spurring him towards a run. Gingrich had made it clear he would not run if Thompson appeared a viable late entry. Now, Gingrich has indicated he wants to jump in if he can secure a pledge of $30 million." (Source: Evans-Novak Political Report, Volume 42, No. 20A, September 26, 2007)

I find this to be very good news and will be watching with interest to see what happens next. From what I know of him Gingrich is a true conservative who is nevertheless able to "think outside the box" and who is not afraid to speak the truth. I hope he decides to run and I may very well support him if he does. He is so smart that I think his mere presence on the debate stage would make all the candidates think (and work) a little harder!

Newt's own website has some additional musings on the topic of a presidential run here and here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Our Father

Lately it seems that the suffering of people I care about has increased substantially. I'm not sure if my perception is correct or if it is just that--a perception. Our fallen world being what it is, I know that suffering is a given and will be until Jesus returns to take His children home. Perhaps, then, I am simply becoming more sensitive to the struggles of others, but I doubt it. I think I'm just as self-centered as ever.

So why does life seem harder these days? And why do my friends and loved ones seem more burdened than ever? More and more I think it's a function of age: as my husband and I get older, so do those with whom we are most involved, and all of us find ourselves facing increasing responsibilities and challenges ranging from rearing our children to managing our finances to dealing with our own health problems to caring for aged parents.

As I ponder the situations of family and friends who are struggling and who have asked for my prayers (as I have asked for theirs), it boggles my feeble little human mind to consider the the extent of suffering I see in just my immediate sphere of existence and to know that it is only a tiny percentage of the suffering that is going on in the rest of the world.

But what I find even more mind-boggling is the thought that the God of the universe knows each of His created souls intimately, as a dear Father knows His dear children, and that as we struggle and cry and grieve and doubt He experiences it all with us, just as parents share bitterly in the pain faced by their own children. And somehow, as the prayers of the faithful come unceasingly to the Father's ears, He manages to hear every single one, as if that one prayer were the only one being offered at that moment in time. I know this to be true, but I find it incomprehensible nonetheless.

"Oh, Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it." (Psalm 139: 1-6)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Straw Poll Thoughts

Thanks to everyone who has so far voted in this site's presidential straw poll, linked at right. You are invited to continue voting on a weekly basis and to encourage anyone else you know to visit and do the same. The Pajamas Media poll is, of course, not at all scientific, but I find it fascinating to get a peek at the preferences of those who frequent this blog, and I will be interested to see if the results change over time. So please keep voting! (Last week's poll has closed but there should soon be a new one.)

Right now among voters at this site, Fred Thompson is leading the GOP contenders and Bill Richardson is leading the Democratic ones. I find it interesting to note that these results mirror those of the national Pajamas straw poll but that they are in stark contrast to the Real Clear Politics average of leading national polls, which this week shows Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton ahead in their respective races.

Reflecting on this divergence, I have a couple of theories (about which I am the first to admit I could be totally mistaken). First, the Pajamas poll in its un-scientificness reflects the more conservative leanings of Pajamas Media readers. Second, I believe the Republican result in particular reflects the high hopes conservative voters have for the candidacy of Fred Thompson. As I have talked with other conservatives in recent months, I have often heard reflected in their opinions my own struggle to find a candidate I can enthusiastically embrace combined with my curiosity about the possible candidacies of both Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich. Now that Thompson has announced, I think a lot of conservative voters are eagerly anticipating his emergence as a candidate who can compete nationally while representing them as a social as well as fiscal conservative.

I have shared in that anticipation. Yet in the first few weeks of Thompson's candidacy I have begun to have doubts about whether he is THE ONE. I will admit that this uncertainty is a result less of my own impressions of his performance in the last few weeks--due to personal circumstances I have just not been following national news very closely--and more of the observations of some analysts whose opinions I respect. I have also become aware and concerned that in head-to-head match-ups of Republicans against Hillary Clinton (who as we all know is the almost certain Democratic candidate), Thompson does not fare as well as either Giuliani or--surprise!--John McCain. Yes, we need a candidate with the right views. But we also need a candidate who can win.

If you, like me, have been waiting around for the Republican knight on a white horse who is going to ride in and save this election, and if you have been hoping Thompson might be our hero, you may wish to read the following columns by two savvy political pundits who suggest that may not happen. If after reading you can offer some rebuttals to the concerns they raise, I encourage you to do so, because I would like to hear the case for Thompson.

George Will

Dick Morris

If you are a committed Thompson supporter, please know that I have not yet decided on a candidate, and it is not my intent to attack him. But I do think that when he was on the sidelines it was very easy for frustrated conservatives like myself to idealize him, endowing him with whatever attributes we were most missing in the announced candidates. Now that he is in the race, the political honeymoon is over, and the scrutiny has begun.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cell Phone Update

An update on our cell phone dilemma . . .

We ran out of minutes yesterday. In fact, at last check we were at least half an hour over (with three days remaining in our billing month). So I took the good advice of one of my readers and called our provider. After I explained the situation to the customer service representative and she perused our account enough to see that this was an exceptional month of usage for us, she offered 150 free bonus minutes to carry us through to the next billing cycle. Problem solved!

A tip of the hat to T-Mobile! It's nice to encounter some flexibility (and humanity) in the corporate world.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New Toy

For fun, I have added a Pajamas Media presidential straw poll to my blog (see right). So if you like you may now vote here once weekly for your preferred candidate in each of the two major parties. (For voting purposes Pajamas is listing only the top tier of candidates as identified by Real Clear Politics.) Results given are for votes on this site only (you can also view national results), meaning it should be interesting to see which candidates are preferred by my eclectic (motley?) readership of confessional Lutherans, homeschoolers, musicians, chess players & Texans.

Happy voting! Let the 2008 presidential games begin!

(Hey, does this mean I can tell everyone I'm a precinct captain now?)

Breathtaking Ignorance

Check out this video, linked on Dr. Mercola's website, of a British television program interviewing Americans about 9/11. And then take a moment to realize that all these people get the same vote as the rest of us. It's enough to make one think King George was right about democracy.


A friend sent this list of puns, which supposedly claimed top honors in an "International Pun Contest." I was unable to "google" any evidence of such a contest, but from the number of "hits" my search brought up it appears this collection of puns has been making the rounds for a while.

Contest or no contest, they are undeniably fun. Enjoy! And if you have a moment, leave a comment and vote for your favorite! (My personal favorite is #6, for obvious reasons.)

1) A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."

2) Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says, "Dam!"

3) Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

4) Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says "I've lost my electron." The other says "Are you sure?" The first replies, "Yes, I'm positive."

5) Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? He wanted to transcend dental medication.

6) A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer."

7) A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."

8) Some friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade" them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent florist friars.
Editor's note: I think whoever came up with this one owes us all an apology.

9) Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of callouses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail, and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him . . . (Oh, man, this is so bad, it's good) . . . A super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

10) And finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to his friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

Friday, September 14, 2007

An Exercise in Narcissism

Speaking of memes (see previous post), a few months back my friend ElephantsChild was tagged to write 8 Things You Might Not Know about her. I was pleased to see her get tagged, not only because I was interested to find out those secret eight things, but also because being my friend and all I thought she might tag me. And this sounded like a really fun meme!

So I waited, and waited, and waited . . . but when she finally wrote her 8 Things, she didn't tag anyone! (Something about too much time passing since she was tagged.) ElephantsChild, you let me down!

I am left with no choice but to tag myself. So here goes . . .

Eight Things You Might Not Know About Me

1) I have ten brothers and sisters. (Quick history: my dad was a widower with four children; my mom was divorced with six; they married and had me, the baby. I have 32 nieces and nephews. I've lost count of the grand-nieces and nephews.)

2) I am totally, completely afraid of flying. Just thinking about it starts my heart pounding and my palms sweating.

3) In spite of #2, my husband succeeded in getting me on a plane and flying me all the way to Grenada in 2002 (if you're not sure where that is, check a map--we're talking almost to South America, folks). We are now using an American Airlines "miles" credit card for almost all of our non-mortgage spending and hope to save up enough miles to return with the children in the near future (our 2002 trip was the honeymoon we never took, deferred to our 15-year wedding anniversary). We have already earned the equivalent of three tickets and are working on the fourth.

4) I was a cheerleader in junior high. (I know, I can't quite believe it myself. But it's true.) In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I was attending a tiny, rural Texas school at the time--so tiny in fact that grades K-12 were all on one campus. So it's not like there was a lot of competition.

5) I once had a pet chicken named Fluffy. (And as it happens, that was also during my junior high years--boy, those were interesting times.)

6) My husband and I enjoy ballroom dancing. (We're not very good at it but have taken two classes and hope to take more.)

7) I was Valedictorian of my high school class (another disclaimer: I went to a small rural high school, too, although not quite as small as the junior high mentioned above) and a National Merit Scholar. (I hope you can forgive my tooting my own horn--but really, if you can't toot on your own blog, where can you?)

8) I have red hair. No, really, I do. I know it may look brown, but it's really red. If you'll just follow me out into the sunshine I'll prove it to you. (It actually used to be about the same color as that watering can girl's hair at the top of my blog--and almost as curly, too--but the older I get the darker and straighter it gets. Aging is no fun.)

So there you go--my little look into the pool. Since I was not tagged, I'm not tagging anyone else, but now that I've so boldly flouted the rules of this meme I encourage anyone else who has been waiting around to get tagged to follow in my footsteps and just tag yourself so your readers can learn 8 interesting things about you, too!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thinking Bloggers, Part 2

A few months back I was honored by my friend and fellow homeschooler Jane when she named me as a Thinking Blogger. In good meme fashion, I am supposed to name some blogs that likewise make me think, but I have been a little slow in doing so, partly because some of the first blogs that came to mind had already been nominated.

In recent weeks, however, several of the blogs I enjoy visiting have clearly set themselves apart as thought-provoking reads. Without further delay, here they are:

1) Mother Hubbard's Cupboard - The author describes his blog as "a look into the mind of one of the most random, crazy people in all the land." I add that my husband and I have known him since he was a mere lad in our last congregation. Now he is seminary-bound (and with his science degree and theological knowledge is one of the best sources I know for creation/evolution questions).

2) Uvulapie's Girl - This lady (another homeschooling Lutheran mom) is just too clever for her own good. Her posts (and their attendant comments) always make me laugh. I wish I could be so funny!

3) Take Up the Gauntlet - Yet another smart, funny Lutheran homeschooler (they seem to be everywhere, don't they?). If you haven't already done so, be sure to read her musings on motherhood, linked in my last post. By the way, she and her inner circle have a plan for world domination. I think we could do worse.

4) The Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake - He's not a Lutheran homeschooler (or a mom), but his sister is both. And he is so smart that sometimes I don't even understand the titles of his posts.

In naming only four blogs I have bent the rules a bit (the originator of this meme, linked below, called for five). But if I name anymore I fear I will not stop until I get to ten or fifteen. So I leave you with these standouts and invite those named to pass along the honor as follows:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.

3. Optional: Proudly display the Thinking Blogger Award with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

Motherhood, Confessional Lutheran Style

One of my fellow Lutheran homeschooling moms recently wrote about the challenges of child-rearing. Her post is both laugh-out-loud hysterical and scathingly, painfully true. Drop in on The Gauntlets and enjoy a great read.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling

The 89th edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling has now been posted, and A Round Unvarnish'd Tale is there. And by the way, I'm not the only Martin Looper you'll find if you visit this week's carnival. Be sure to take a peek!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Cell Phone Blues

Until a few years ago we did not have a cell phone. It's not that we didn't want one, but we simply couldn't justify the cost.

Then we received an offer for a cellular plan that would allow us to have two separate lines for about the same price we were paying for our unlimited long distance land line. So we decided to disconnect the land line and go all cellular. As a mom who does a lot of driving, both with children in the car and by myself, I can't overstate the extra sense of security gained by knowing I have a ready means of communication should I need it. The phone also comes in handy for staying in close contact with children who remain at home while I am out. And my husband and I enjoy having a convenient means of direct communication when one of us is at home and the other is not.

But the exclusively cellular lifestyle has its disadvantages. First, there are those "dropped" calls--connections that for no apparent reason suddenly just cease to exist. Second, there can be coverage problems. The cell phone companies are always working on this issue, seeking to expand the area in which their service is offered, but there are still those stretches where suddenly one can find oneself without phone service. (Of course, sometimes that can be a blessing!) Third is reception issues, the most annoying of which occurs when I experience an echo of my own voice as I am trying to have a conversation with someone. Fourth is the problem of sometimes simply not hearing the phone ring. We have designated one of our cell phones as the "house" phone--it is the one that almost always stays home, while whoever is away gets the "traveling" phone. But since there is only one house phone and no extensions, and since it is a tiny little thing with an unobtrusive little ringtone, if no one happens to be in the vicinity when a call comes in the ring may simply not be heard.

We have been aware of all of these issues for a while now. But this week another wrinkle has become apparent. Our cell phone plan allows for 1000 minutes of usage per month (shared between our two lines). Calls placed from one of our phones to the other (the bulk of our calling) incur no minutes, so for several years the 1000 minutes per month have been more than sufficient.

But in the last few weeks, in the aftermath of my mom's automobile accident, I have spent countless minutes on the phone with doctors, nurses, hospitals, nursing homes, insurance companies, relatives, and friends. Many of those minutes have been spent on hold, just waiting for someone to come on the line. So a few days ago it suddenly occurred to me that I had better check our plan minutes to see how we were doing. Turns out we are less than halfway through our billing month, but we have used over 750 minutes (three-fourths) of our time. Suddenly I find myself rationing phone calls and becoming extremely difficult with anyone who does not get directly to the point of the call. This morning I called to check on my mom and got a very chatty nurse who proceeded to describe in detail my mom's first night in her new location. Any other time I would have welcomed a nurse that cared enough to spend this length of time telling me about my mother, but today I found myself repeatedly looking at my watch, ticking off the minutes.

We have no plans to change our phone service. This approach has generally worked well and is the most economical way for us to get the service we want. And this has been an out of the ordinary month. But if you currently have a land line and have ever considered replacing it with all cellular service, these are some implications you might want to consider.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Expert in Residence

First a tip of the hat to a friend and fellow chess parent for providing me with the title for this post. (Thanks, ChessDad! You know who you are!)

A few months ago I wrote a post celebrating my chess-playing son's latest rating increase. At the time he was a mere 10 points short of achieving "Expert" status, which comes when one reaches the 2000 mark. (For more than you ever wanted to know about chess ratings, click here.)

This past weekend Trevor played in the Illinois Open, an annual Labor Day event. This is not a scholastic or "kid" tournament but a statewide event that draws players of all ages and levels. Out of six games played over three days, Trevor won 3, drew 1, and lost 2 (one of those to the tournament winner, who is an International Master.)

Trevor's performance at the tournament netted him 10 rating points, poetically propelling him to precisely the 2000 mark! So now I can say that I have a bona fide chess Expert in the house.

One of the things that most struck me about this weekend was the realization of how much my son and his chess peers are growing up. They are no longer little 7- and 8-year-olds playing for big, shiny trophies but young men, most taller than me, speaking in surprisingly deep voices and starting to sport facial hair. Their main reason for playing, apart from the sheer enjoyment of the game, is the personal satisfaction of improving their level of skill and accumulating rating points. (And if a little prize money comes their way, so much the better.) I found myself repeatedly wondering, what happened to our little boys? They aren't little anymore, but are being replaced by a new generation of young chess talent as they themselves inch closer to adulthood. (Note: there are a few females at these tournaments, but the vast majority are male, and I of course mostly keep track of Trevor's chess "buddies.")

There were several remarkable performances over the weekend, but I don't trust myself to accurately highlight them without inadvertently leaving someone out. So I will just say that it was an excellent, professionally run tournament and a great time of chess for all involved. As always, the weekend was an opportunity not only for Trevor to indulge in one of his greatest passions but also for me to enjoy the community and cameraderie of fellow chess parents. The chance to converse with some lovely people as well as have some rare quiet time was a welcome lull in the storm of life that has been raging around my family the last few weeks. And seeing Trevor reach this important and long-awaited milestone was the "icing on the cake."

Congratulations, Trevor! I'm beaming with pride.

Monday, September 3, 2007

There, There

One of my favorite all-time books is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I read it many years ago at the suggestion of one of my college English professors, and although I have not read it again since, the impression it made on me at the time was profound. It is rightfully recognized as an American and twentieth-century literary classic.

One of the most pivotal scenes in the book occurs when the plane of Yossarian, a bombardier in the U.S. Army during WWII, receives heavy anti-aircraft fire, resulting in the mortal wounding of the plane's gunner, a young man whose name is Snowden. As Yossarian attempts to assess and attend to Snowden's injuries, he realizes that they are so severe that Snowden is beyond saving, but he protects Snowden from that realization:

"'I'm cold,' Snowden said softly. 'I'm cold.'

'You're going to be all right, kid,' Yossarian reassured him with a grin. 'You're going to be all right.'

'I'm cold,' Snowden said again in a frail, childlike voice. 'I'm cold.'

'There, there,' Yossarian said, because he did not know what else to say. 'There, there.'

'I'm cold,' Snowden whimpered. 'I'm cold.'

'There, there. There, there.'"

Earlier in this scene when Yossarian first goes to Snowden's aid (by the way, note the absolute appropriateness of Snowden's name), he discovers a severe leg wound to which he applies a tourniquet. As Snowden complains of pain, Yossarian looks in vain for morphine to ease that pain. Then to his great horror as he continues caring for Snowden he discovers a ghastly abdominal wound--one that he knows the gunner cannot survive. All that is left is for him to cover the victim with a blanket and soothe him as best he can.

During the last few weeks and months I have found myself thinking of this scene and greatly empathizing with Yossarian. I don't mean to minimize the horror of the wartime situation--what I face is nothing like that--but it seems that more and more I find myself not knowing what else to say except "There, there." I am a mommy--I am used to kissing and bandaging "owies" and making things better. But I find that these days I just don't have the ability to make things better. I look at my mother lying severely injured in a hospital bed, and I can't turn back time to the moment before her crash, and I can't make those injuries heal any faster. I hear from friends who are going through some of the most trying times in their lives as they struggle with complicated family situations and financial challenges, and I don't have a solution to their problems. I look at my husband, who already has no time for recreation or exercise or the pursuit of his own personal goals, yet who for the sake of the family is adding additional income-generating activities to his schedule while he simultaneously takes college classes to please those who think he needs additional credentials to do the job he has been doing smashingly for almost 20 years now. And I feel equally helpless to lighten his load.

All I can do is offer a hug, a pat on the back, a warm blanket, and the words "There, there." And of course I can pray. But like Snowden I can't seem to ease the pain, and like Snowden I don't have solutions to the temporal problems faced by the people I care about. I know I'm not alone in feeling helpless to assist. Over the past week I have been touring skilled care facilities looking for an acceptable environment in which my mother can complete her rehabilitation and recovery. The first one I went to was simply unacceptable. The second one, although lovely, was very expensive and not accepting of Medicare. Yesterday I saw two more, both of which I found to be not merely suitable but quite excellent. After first one and then another admissions director told me that there were currently no beds available, I found it impossible to maintain my composure and started crying right there in the lobby. The kind woman who was assisting me offered her sympathy, but what could she say? She did not have an answer for me. "There, there."

I know that in time all of these things will pass and that the ultimate victory over sin, death and the grave has been won in the person of Jesus Christ. As I look to the cross I find peace in that assurance, and although I may not have the words to comfort my loved ones, I know that Christ does, and I entrust them to Him who is the only true comfort. But in the meantime the day is long and the path difficult, and I find myself wondering if and when the burden will get lighter, both for my dear ones and for myself.

"There, there."

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Faint Praise?

In our ongoing efforts at balancing the family budget my husband and I are both taking on some additional piano students. One of those is the 6-year-old daughter of one of our choir members. This young lady's mother called me earlier in the week to discuss lessons and related to me a conversation with her daughter, who notwithstanding her tender years, already has some strong opinions about what she wants to do. She informed her mother that she desired to begin taking piano lessons with me but that when she gets "really good" she wants to switch to the Cantor.

I don't know whether to be flattered that she chose me first or insulted that her ultimate goal is my husband. I think I'll choose the former!