". . . 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)

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Seaon for Giving

I seem to be in a reportorial mood these days . . . .

Here are a few of the Christmas gifts that brought smiles to the faces of various people in my house. Can you guess the recipients?

An Imaginext pirate ship
A Crusader's set of armor (based on Ephesians 6 - "Put on the full armor of God"--and yes, it included a sword)
Several books in the Lego "Knights of the Castle" series
Leap Frog magnetic word-builder

High School Musical DVD & CD
Pokemon, Martina McBride, & Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals CD's
The Daring Book for Girls
Julie of the Wolves Trilogy
Word Origin Word-a-Day Calendar

James Ussher's Annals of the World
People's Bible Commentary on Galatians & Ephesians
Electric razor
Men's pajamas, size small
SAT Question-a-Day Calendar

Black wool overcoat
Leather gloves
Low-carb cookbooks
The Matrix and The Manchurian Candidate DVD's
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

Family gifts included Harry Potter Volumes 1-6 (yes, we're finally catching up to popular culture around here, at least in this regard) and a collection of Victor Borge DVD's (what a great idea for a piano-playing family!). I received several of the items on my wish list, including an eyeglass chain, a dual-strand beaded necklace in autumn colors (burnt orange & green) from Coldwater Creek, and The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature. There was also another gift from my husband in the category of "small, round and shiny" (and totally impractical)--maybe I'll tell you more about it in a future post, or maybe my friends will just have to see it in person next time we meet. But for now know that my husband is too good to me and that--silly girl that I am--his gift was one of the reasons I cried on Christmas Day.

I hope that you are still finding time to relax, spend time with family and friends, enjoy the gifts you received, and above all, reflect on the miracle of our Lord's incarnation. Happy seventh day of Christmas!

Saturday, December 29, 2007


My previous post included mention of my daughter's pet hamster, Stormy, who died on Christmas Day. Click here to see a very special Christmas photo of Stormy taken just days before she died.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Diary

My blogging style tends to lean more towards the journal (sharing ideas, observations, & reflections) than the "Dear Diary" approach ("what I did last week"), but I am always intrigued when my blogging friends provide a "blow-by-blow" peek into their daily lives, so for those who may be interested, here is how we spent Christmas Eve & Day.

Christmas Eve Eve (Sunday night) - I am deep in the throes of cold symptoms and exhausted from several busy days with even less sleep than usual. So while my husband and the children settle in for a boisterous game of Landslide (the 1971 Parker Brothers version, not the updated one), I excuse myself and hit the sheets at a mercifully early 9:15 p.m! I don't rise until almost 7:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve Day (that's almost 10--count them, 10--hours of sleep!)

After morning coffee and computer time, I make waffles for the family on our George Foreman grill (a really cool appliance that I need to use more often). Then we leave the dishes for later and settle in to listen to Lessons and Carols (I wrote about that here). Afterward my husband, a full-time Lutheran cantor, leaves the house to begin preparing for one of the most demanding 24-hour periods of his year (four worship services in 17 hours). The children and I spend the afternoon doing some last-minute housecleaning (so that the main level is nice for Christmas morning even if the master bedroom is a disaster because of all the clutter that has been relocated there). Then at about 3:30 I leave to pick up my mother and bring her to our house for the night as well as to do an emergency stop at Target for a few additional stocking stuffers.

Back at home, my mom, the kids and I have dinner together while my husband is at church leading the first of our three Christmas Eve worship services. At 6:15 the children and I leave for church (my mom stays home to nurse an ailing back) to ensure that the 12-year-old and I will arrive in time for 6:45 choir warm-up.

7:15 p.m. - 12-year-old daughter begins her a cappella solo on the first stanza of "Once in Royal David's City" (the traditional opening of the Lessons and Carols liturgy, which our church follows for this particular service). As the flute player intones the introduction to the hymn, I see a look of panic fly across my daughter's face, as her repeated efforts to turn on the cordless microphone in her hand prove to be in vain. I am equally unsuccessful, and the reason is soon apparent: the battery is dead. There is no time to run for a new battery, so in classic "the show must go on" fashion this seasoned children's choir veteran takes a deep breath and projects as best she can across our rather large sanctuary as the cross is processed down the center aisle. For once (and blessedly so), there are no babies crying, no whispered comments, and no noisy coughs or sneezes, as the assembly listens to the unamplified but still quite audible voice of a little girl's voice announcing the birth of the Saviour:

Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for his bed.
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.

The service continues with additional flute, brass, and children's choir offerings, including the traditional "Quempas Carol" (with traveling groups of children singing from opposite sides of the sanctuary) and the famous Willcocks descants on "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (as usual, I am completely unable to sing on those stanzas but instead find myself dissolving into blubbering sobs as I listen to the voices of the children sailing high above those of the assembly).

After worship the children and I return home, where there is only about an hour to spare before my oldest son and I need to return for the final service of the evening. I use that time to have a quick snack, chat with my mother, and get the 4-year-old ready for bed. Grandma will read him his stories and big Sis will tuck him in.

10:30 finds my son and me back at church warming up with the adult choir (directed by my husband). The final service of the evening (which will include my son's first solo using his newly acquired tenor voice) is a communion liturgy that ends with a candle-lighting ceremony. At this time the organ goes silent and as the choir sings "Silent Night" a cappella in German ("Stile Nacht"), ushers come forward to light the candles of worshippers seated on the aisles, and the flame is passed from one person to the next until the entire sanctuary is awash in candlelight. The singing (now in English) continues, accompanied by flute, piano, and accordion. Sitting at the piano, I am able to look out across the congregation and see face after face lit in candlelight, singing of the birth of the Saviour, and it strikes me that this moment is truly a foretaste of the feast to come, when all the saints shall sing together at the throne of the Lamb. Worshippers begin filing out of the sanctuary, still holding their candles, and the music doesn't stop until all have departed.

Church goes long, but no one seems to mind, and it is after 1:00 a.m. by the time my son and I arrive at home. I upload my previously prepared Christmas blog post, greet my husband (who had to stay behind a while longer to set up for the morning), fill the stockings and set out the 4-year-old's "Santa" gifts, falling into bed shortly before 2:00 a.m.

Christmas morning, 7:00 a.m. - The alarm goes off, indicating it is time to get ready for Christmas Day worship. This time my son gets to sleep in while my daughter returns to church to provide piano music for the prelude ("I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In"). Worship is preceded by a Christmas Hymn Sing and again includes Communion. My husband says that the simplicity and quiet of Christmas morning is his opportunity to truly worship without the pressure and demands of the night before.

After worship we return home for a late breakfast/early lunch and present opening! The 4-year-old has spent the morning playing with his "Santa" gifts (when his grandma saw him playing with one of them and exclaimed, "Oh, is that from Santa?" his response was, "No, from Mommy.") Our tradition is to start with the youngest and move to the oldest, taking turns opening gifts one at a time so that we can all share in the recipient's pleasure. My husband and I, fading quickly from lack of sleep, enjoy another cup of coffee. But finally, we retire for a much needed afternoon nap.

Christmas dinner consists of an exceedingly rare treat--filet mignon--along with asparagus, sweet potatoes, and Caesar salad. Dessert is a French Silk pie courtesy of Market Day (you think I had time to cook this week?). While the children clean up, I drive my mother home, and when I return discover that the 4-year-old has fallen asleep. We put him to bed and wrap up the day by watching "It's a Wonderful Life" for the first time with our children, and in good home school fashion stop several times for commentary, including a lengthy lecture on economics and the stock market crash following the scene depicting the run on the bank.

After the movie I do some end of day picking up and then go upstairs to find my daughter looking at her hamster cage with a look of bewilderment. "What's wrong, honey?" "I don't know . . . I think something's wrong with Stormy." The hamster, advanced in age, is dead, having apparently breathed her last sometime during the day. After some sobs and hugs, I find a decorative satin-lined gift box that is just about the right size for a hamster. We will have a burial in the morning.

A Politically Correct Christmas?

My friend Mrs. K. recently posted this politically correct Christmas greeting on her blog. It's short but hilarious--if you have a moment, click over and enjoy a good laugh (unless you're one of my dear Democrat friends--or Mom--in which case you should consider yourself fairly warned).

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Three French Hens

One of my biggest pet peeves is the popular culture's insistence that Christmas is over on December 26. I don't get it, really. Even among those who practice Christmas only in a secular way, there is such extensive anticipation and build-up to Christmas Day that I would expect the celebration to continue a bit longer. Yet once December 25 has come and gone, it seems most people are tired of the whole thing, ready to move on to New Year's parties and Valentine's Day decorating and even planning for spring break and summer vacation. Case in point is my husband's XM radio (last year's Father's Day gift), which he transferred into my van prior to a family road trip last month, and which he has yet to move back to his own car (take your time, honey!). Over the past few weeks I have been enjoying my pick of several different Christmas stations, including one entirely devoted to orchestral and choral arrangements (in other words, no "Feliz Navidad" or Doobie Brothers or even Frank Sinatra). I am accustomed to the local radio stations dispensing with their Christmas programming on December 26, but I was hoping subscription radio might hold out a bit longer. No such luck, though. As I cycled through the Christmas pre-sets today, each one had the same message: "Off air."

Ah, well. Just add this to one of the long list of ways our family is out of sync with the general public. As members of a liturgical denomination (one in which the church year follows a set order of "seasons" that reflect the birth, life & ministry, death, resurrection & ascension of Christ), we spend the largest part of December observing Advent, a time of preparation for Christmas, so that when December 25 arrives it is just the first of twelve days of Christmas that begin with the Feast of the Nativity (the birth of Jesus) and culminate in the Feast of the Epiphany (the visit of the wise men). At home, too, we continue to observe the Christmas holiday by playing Christmas music around the house, leaving the Christmas tree and other decorations up, and wishing each other "merry Christmas" each day. (Although we don't follow this practice, I know of families who spread their family gift-giving over the twelve days of Christmas instead of concentrating it all on Christmas Day).

But to tell the truth, there is an additional, more practical reason our Christmas observance continues beyond December 25: as a family in which both parents are working church musicians (one part-time, the other full-time), the weeks that lead up to and include Christmas Day can be quite draining. Whereas many people wake up on December 26 with the intention of returning to normal activities after a few days off, we wake up having just finished a few of the busiest days of the year. In our family, December 26 is a cherished lull in the storm, a true "pajama day," a day when everything finally comes to a complete and utter halt (did you notice I didn't "post" yesterday?). It is a "halt" that we try very hard to perpetuate for several more days, enjoying some rare time resting and recreating at home as a family. Thus, yesterday and today I did not set my alarm clock, resulting in my sleeping in until after 7:00 a.m. (that's late for this customarily early riser). And while most people we know have already made and eaten their Christmas cookies, we may finally get around to making some in our house tomorrow or the next day. In past years I have been known to use this time to send out Epiphany rather than Christmas greetings. And as I enjoy a break in my piano teaching and accompanying schedule and my husband's load is lightened as a result of our church's day school being out on vacation, these cherished few days will include some all too rare family game and movie time.

The challenge right now is to grant ourselves permission to enjoy the rest afforded by a slightly less demanding schedule by not filling it up with all those things on the task list that are forever waiting to be addressed. Maybe over the next week we'll tackle a few of those. But they've waited this long, and they can wait a bit longer. In the meantime, we plan on playing some of those dusty board games, listening to some of those rarely heard CD's, and taking advantage of that too-often unused Netflix subscription.

Merry Third Day of Christmas!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through Him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

He was in the world, and world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.

Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us at The Round Unvarnish'd Tale!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Did You Listen?

*To Lessons and Carols, that is. It was glorious, even without the traditional Willcocks descants on "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."

But I think the best part was having my rambunctious can't-sit-still, sword-wielding, gun-toting, smite-the-bad-guys 4-year-old cuddle on my lap in the rocking chair for almost the entire 1-1/2 hour broadcast.

Makes me think he would do that more often if I would only slow down a bit.

Merry Christmas to me.

*If you missed the live broadcast, it's not too late, as various American Public Media affiliates will be replaying this year's recording of the service over the next few days. My previous post on this topic includes a link to one such station.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

More Primary Musings

In my recent post about the Republican presidential candidates, I had little to say about Fred Thompson except to observe that he doesn't really seem to want the job very much and that thus far I haven't been terribly impressed by his television appearances. After reading my post, my husband (who is not planning to vote for Thompson) remarked, "You were kind of unfair to Thompson." Then in her comment on my post my friend Elephant Child wrote, "I don't think I want someone as my president who REALLY WANTS the job. . . Being president is a miserable job, really . . . and I want someone who realizes that upfront and is willing to serve anyway."

I find that to be a very thoughtful observation. Yet I think what I was trying to get at with my "he doesn't want it" statement is what strikes me as a certain lack of passion on the part of Thompson. I understand that the presidency is a thankless job and that anyone in his right mind would probably have some reservations about taking it on. But I would like my president to be someone who is passionate about his beliefs and who has the ability to inspire others to share in his vision. And so far I just haven't gotten that from Thompson.

But as I reflect on my previous post, I am struck by the brevity of my comments on Thompson. In all honesty, he is something of an unknown to me. The debates and interviews on which I saw him were fairly soon after his annnouncement, and I have been too busy to watch the last round of debates. So I have decided that he, like McCain, deserves a second look from me, and in fact my first New Year's resolution will be to give both of these candidates another chance at my vote.

By the way, in the near future be looking for a guest post on the election from Mr. Round Unvarnished Tale himself (the smartest political mind I know)!

O Christmas Tree

When it comes to Christmas trees our family has done it all, from artificial to real to chopping our own to buying off the neighborhood lot. A few years ago the tree we purchased from a nearby lot started dropping its needles within days after we got it home and decorated it. I'm talking not just a needle here and a needle there but a carpet of dark green blanketing our off-white carpet on a daily basis. When I returned to the vendor to complain, I was told I could bring the tree back and exchange it for another, but really, who is going to undecorate a tree and drag it back to the lot only to get another one that may be just as dry? We managed as best we could and took the tree down shortly after Christmas.

After that experience I vowed never to make the same mistake again. So last year for the first time we visited a nearby tree farm and chopped down our own tree. It turned out to be a fun family adventure in spite of the frigid weather and the fact that the tree was so covered in ice and snow that we had to wait a day for its winter coat to melt off before we could decorate it. The tree farm we visited also has a small zoo, a country store with homemade and canned foodstuffs for sale as well as several resident cats and parrots to entertain the clientele, and complimentary popcorn and hot chocolate after tree shopping and chopping.

So this year we returned for a repeat of last year's successful tree-chopping outing. Only this year there were several unexpected variables: after several days of rain and melting snow and sleet, the tree farm had become a veritable mud pit. When we expressed an interest in chopping down our own tree the saleswoman's face fell and she asked "Are you sure you want to go out there?" Shen then pointed us to several trees that had already been chopped down and were awaiting buyers. Not only that, due to the lateness of the tree shopping season, they had been marked down in price. Well, that's about all the convincing this stressed out, exhausted Mom & Pop needed. The children were agreeable, so we picked a nice Balsam fir from the line-up and brought it home. The saleswoman assured us it would last until Epiphany, and since she was representing a local business and not one of those temporary tree lots that disappear once the tree-selling season is over, I felt fairly comfortable taking her at her word.

Here's the finished product. It's one of the tallest, fattest trees we've ever had (and there are a few brand new scratches on the ceiling to attest to that fact)! So far, the needles are holding pretty well.

Now it just needs some presents! Time to get wrapping.

Family Christmas Photo

After church decorating last week I had the children pose in front of our altar for a Christmas photo. Here are the three shots I took. Which one do you think went out in the letters this year? Which one obviously didn't?

Don't I have beautiful children? And to think they're nice people, too. I am blessed beyond telling.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Primary Musings

For months now I have been debating whom to vote for in the Republican primary. As primary day nears I know I need to make a decision, but as I survey the Republican field I continue to have doubts about most of the "frontrunners." So I thought I would take a few moments to share some of my current thinking on this very important decision.

Giuliani? There is much to like about him, particularly the sense that he is a leader whose policies are not determined by poll numbers. He doesn't seem to care what people think of him, and in these dangerous international times I think that is a plus. I also think he is one our best hopes of winning nationally because of his ability to win independent and crossover votes. But as a pro-life Christian conservative, I can't ignore his liberal social views. My husband says that Giuliani's commitment to appoint strict constructionist judges may ironically make him a better friend to the pro-life cause than some past supposedly pro-life presidents whose judicial appointments let us down. But I'm not sure. If Giuliani gets the nomination I will vote for him in the general election because I like his economic and foreign policy views and I'm not convinced he will hurt the pro-life cause. I also think the primary directive should be to prevent the Democrats from regaining the presidency because the thing that scares me most is the lasting repercussions of having any of the current Democratic contenders in the White House.

Thompson? I just don't think he wants it very much. And I haven't been that impressed by his debate and interview appearances. He seems to rely way too much on notes rather than a having a true command of the issues.

Romney? I'm sorry, but it's the Mormonism. I just don't feel comfortable voting for someone as my president who can embrace all of the tenets of that religion. I also cannot get out of my mind an interview with Mrs. Romney where she claimed not to remember writing a large check to Planned Parenthood. There is some dishonesty there that I don't feel good about. The Romneys strike me as a couple, like the Clintons, who have long planned for the presidency and who will say and do whatever it takes to get there. When I listen to Mitt answer a question I feel like he is pressing the "play" button and just letting the canned answer spin itself out rather than speaking from somewhere within himself.

Huckabee? I have taken a few looks at him along the way and also see much to like there. But I don't respect his stepping back from his religious beliefs in the name of political advancement (he refuses to stand up for beliefs that I know he holds to but instead finds ways to "talk around" them). I also don't like his big government (high tax, overspending) ways and his coziness with the NEA (he was the only Republican candidate to address that body and in so doing faulted his Republican friends for sending the message that they don't value education because they didn't do the same).

That leaves John McCain. Early in this campaign I was leaning toward him but after a couple of lackluster debate performances I started to wonder if he could be competitive in the general election. But it just so happens that he actually polls better against the Democratic candidates than any of the other GOP possibilities. I saw Democratic strategist Bob Beckel on television a few nights ago acknowledging that McCain is the Republican the Democrats fear most. In recent days McCain has picked up some momentum with the support of Joe Lieberman and a string of newspaper endorsements. The Boston Herald in fact has this year dispensed with its practice of endorsing candidates in both primaries and has called for independents and Democrats alike to cross over to the Republican primary and support McCain because they think he is the single best man to be the next president.

In coming weeks I will be taking a second look at McCain. I know conservatives have some issues with him--taxes, immigration, campaign finance reform--but I have always appreciated his candor. He says he supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent because they have clearly helped the economy. He has the support of an entire gallery of former secretaries of state as well as that of a host of other names that I respect. I think he understands the treacherous times in which we live and would make national security a priority. And by the way, have you seen his Christmas message? While everyone is making such a fuss about Huckabee's commercial featuring the bookshelf that looks like a cross, McCain's commercial overtly features a cross as he tells the story of the encouragement he received as a POW when one of his North Korean guards drew a cross in the sand.

Boy, that almost sounds like an endorsement, doesn't it? I'm not quite ready to go in to the voting booth yet, but these are the things that I will be thinking about over the next few months. And it looks like I'm not the only one.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Santa Who?

Speaking of Christmas memories . . .

Santa & me, about 40 years ago.

I'm still shy around strangers.

(But isn't that one of the best Santas you've ever seen?)

Lessons and Carols

It has become a tradition for our family to listen to the King's College Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast live from Cambridge, England on Christmas Eve. We typically sleep in a bit later than usual in preparation for the busy night ahead. Then we wake up and have a special family breakfast (meaning that I actually cook something instead of letting everyone fend for themselves) before settling in to listen to the broadcast. Although as we listen it is still Christmas Eve morning in the United States, the faithful across the sea are already beginning their Christmas celebration, and for me there is always something mystical in that realization and in the knowledge that at any given time in the 24 hours of Christmas Eve and Day someone somewhere will be worshipping the newborn King.

If you have never treated yourself to this musical feast, consider doing so this year. The service of Lessons and Carols begins with the Genesis account of the fall of man and continues from there to recount God's plan for the salvation of mankind in the person of Jesus Christ. The nine readings from the Bible are interspersed with some of the most gorgeous choral music imaginable. The Festival of Lessons and Carols is broadcast across the country by many public radio stations. If your local station does not carry it, you can listen online. If you do so, however, just be aware that the source of the broadcast may be in a different time zone from your own. If that is the case, make sure to adjust for your own time zone!

Here's just one place you can listen online. Note that this is a Cincinnati radio station, meaning it is eastern time zone. So although the broadcast time is 10:00 a.m., in Chicago we will be ready to listen at 9:00 a.m. The link also provides excellent background about the history of Lessons and Carols. (By the way, on this station the service will be rebroadcast on Christmas Day at 6:00 p.m./5:00 p.m. central time. But I would recommend listening live if at all possible. )

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sidebar Addition

I have added a new element to my sidebar: a listing of entertaining and thought-provoking sites related to English language and literature. It is still under construction, so if this topic is one that interests you keep checking for more additions and to see what form this feature ultimately takes. Hat tips to Elephant's Child and Amused Momma for pointing me to several of the links!


Yesterday I sent out a few additional Christmas greetings (the bulk of them were mailed last week). As I did so I read through our Christmas letter again, something which in the process of writing, editing, proofreading, printing and mailing I must have already done dozens of times. This time, however, I read the letter as a recipient might--uncritically, not looking for errors, but simply receiving the news contained therein.

How ironic, then, that on this reading I found an overlooked typo. Oh, no! How could I have missed it? It was right there in the second paragraph: not a misspelling or a punctuation or grammatical error but instead, a missing word. In all my previous readings of the letter my brain, which knew the word that should have been there, had simply filled it in. Repeatedly.

And to think I used to call myself an English teacher. And that I used to get paid for proofreading other people's stuff! (These days I just do it for free.)

I don't know if I will ever be able to trust my eyes (or my brain) again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Surge

The Long War Journal is a nonprofit news site that describes itself as "dedicated to providing original and accurate reporting and analysis of the Long War (also known as the Global War on Terror). This is accomplished through its programs of embedded reporters, news and news aggregation, podcasts, and other multimedia formats."

The Journal's recent posting entitled Iraq by the Numbers charts "Overall Weekly Iraq Attack Trends" from September 2004 to the present. The most passing glance at the chart cannot fail to notice the precipitous decline in all categories of attacks since June of this year, which I think is about the time General Petraeus pronounced the surge fully in place. Associated Press is reporting the same thing. It would appear to my eyes, then, that the surge is working, and working mightily.

What I don't understand is why this is not front page, nightly lead-off story news and why the entire country is not celebrating the surge for the success that it is. Nancy Pelosi should be calling a joint press conference with General Petraeus and President Bush to celebrate this national achievement and congratulate our troops. Because whether one agrees or disagrees with the President's Iraq policy and the waging of this war, the facts cannot be ignored: there has been significant improvement in the levels of violence since the completion of the surge, and no matter what your view on the war, this is something to be proud of.

I know people have differing views on the war, and I respect those whose principles lead them to think differently than I. But I do not respect those who refuse to acknowledge the facts simply because it is easier to oppose a policy that is not succeeding.

Christmas Memories

Some of my blogging friends have recently been sharing Christmas memories. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading their stories but in doing so have been reminded of my own frustratingly poor memory. I have lost track of the number of times over the years that my husband or mother or someone else has asked me "Do you remember . . . ?" only to be answered with my blank and clueless stare. There is just so much that I cannot recall. Rather than detailed stories I seem to have snatches of memories--short little flashes of moments that for whatever reason made an impression and stuck. The same is true when I think back to Christmases past. I can't say that I really remember with any precision my first Christmas as a married woman or any of my children's first Christmases or any particular Christmas growing up (sorry, family--please don't take it personally!). But there are a few images that have stayed with me over the years, so without further ado, here they are:

The feeling of anticipation as my sisters and I tiptoed down the stairs to see what Santa had brought in our big old two-story house in Austin, Texas.

Having my 16-year-old sister prolong my belief in Santa when I was 8 by telling me that when she was 8 she doubted his existence and therefore didn't get a visit that year, nor the Easy Bake oven she had asked for. Hmmm, the year she told me this story I wanted an Easy Bake oven, too.

Being awakened as a teenager on Christmas morning by my father leaning over my bed smiling and brightly announcing "It's Christmas!" Having "matured" beyond the practice of waking up at dawn to see what Santa had brought, I was enjoying sleeping in a little on this Christmas morning. As I look back I realize my dad was longing for the days of the little girl who couldn't wait to get up and start the celebration. I cherish this memory of my dad because he was an alcoholic whose personality would change as the day wore on and he started drinking. I always saw the best of him in the morning.

The first Christmas present my husband ever gave me. We weren't even really dating at the time but were friends. He left the gift on the front seat of my car (I can't remember if it was my normal practice to leave my car unlocked, but hey, in this case I'm glad I did, and anyway, we're talking small town Texas in the 1980s). The gift was a heavy clear glass votive candle holder in the shape of a star. I still have it.

Driving through Texas countryside on Christmas Eve after visiting my parents for a few days. I was newly married and because my husband had to work we could not spend Christmas with our parents (he was a church musician who had to play for services). So I had gone home to spend a few days with my own parents but was now returning to my husband for Christmas. I remember the drive through the country roads of Texas, reflecting on my new life as I looked at all the houses and imagined the preparations that were going on inside each one. I think I still remember this seemingly insignificant event because of the way it redefined for me what it mean to go home for Christmas.

My first Christmas in Illinois after moving with my husband from Texas. He had taken a full-time music position at a Lutheran cathedral in downtown Peoria. It was (and still is) a grand piece of architecture with a world class organ. When we came out of Christmas Eve candlelight worship a little after midnight, a gentle snow was just beginning to fall. This Texas girl felt like she had taken up residence in a Hallmark Christmas card.

Accompanying the Peoria Area Youth Chorus in its appearances on the Civic Chorale Christmas concerts at the Peoria Civic Center in the 1990s. My husband directed the choir and I played the piano. The children were simply phenomenal and typically brought down the house at these well-attended concerts. It was always exciting to perform in such a large venue and before such an appreciative audience. Talk about an ego boost!

Listening to my first and then my second child sing the first stanza of "Once in Royal David's City" a cappella at the beginning of Lessons and Carols. It's beautiful enough to hear the sweet voice of any child singing this hymn, but when it's your very own son or daughter, well . . . . I'm hoping some day child number three will continue the tradition.

Singing "Of the Father's Love Begotten" on Christmas Eve. I don't remember the first time I heard this hymn, but it was in my adulthood after I became a Lutheran. It wasn't long before it became my favorite Christmas hymn, the one that for me sums up and announces our Lord's incarnation like no other and that makes me really feel like Christmas has arrived:

Of the Father's love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be.
He is Alpha and Omega.
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are that have been
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.
Oh, that birth forever blessed,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race,
And the babe, the world's Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face
Evermore and evermore.
This is He whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord,
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word.
Now He shines, the long-expected,
Let creation praise its Lord
Evermore and evermore.
O ye heights of heav'n adore Him:
Angel hosts His praises sing,
Pow'rs, dominions, bow before Him
And extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Ev'ry voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore.
Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Church Decorating

Whereas decorating one's home can sometimes become a task or a chore (it shouldn't, but it does, at least for me), there is something downright relaxing about decorating the church. Add some hot soup and bread and suddenly there's a small army to help. At our recent church decorating party, homeschoolers were particularly well-represented (100% of our church's homeschooling families--that would be three--were in attendance).

A few of my Lutheran homeschooling friends ("Martin Loopers") may recognize Michael T. from the Looper gathering at my church back in August. Here he is spearheading the hanging of the swag on the organ balcony . . . always a formidable task.

Hang on, Michael!

Chris (another homeschooler) gives the thumbs up. Success!

Trevor had bow duty. Looks good, honey!

Almost done!

Those artificial branches have to be spread and shaped after being in boxes all year long. (What lovely girls, no? The one on the right is mine.)

Another homeschool mom, Suzanne T. (married to the crazy guy who was hanging from the organ balcony) is on the right.

Michael and Suzanne's youngest daughter Sophie.

One of the rewards of helping out with church decorating is getting a rare glimpse of the organ balcony!

That lunch that lured everyone in was prepared and served by our dear pastor's wife (and my youngest's godmother).
We're ready for Christmas! The lights on the trees and swags will not be lit until Christmas Eve. At that time the altar will also be adorned with poinsettias. Next week I will try to post a few photos of our sanctuary in its full Christmas glory.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wish List

My husband and children have been asking for gift ideas. Since I have enjoyed reading the "wish lists" of some of my friends on their blogs, I thought I would follow the trend and post mine as well (it's located in the sidebar at the very bottom). I figure this way it will be easy to update and impossible to misplace! Also, it's nice to be able to link to actual items.

I've tried to include ideas to suit all budgets, but I must admit that my tastes seem to be leaning towards the higher end of the spectrum these days. Sorry, honey. Just remember--you asked!

Friday, December 14, 2007

New Toy

My cell phone played out a few weeks ago. The display had been malfunctioning for some time, intermittently taking on the appearance of a photo negative, and finally the battery quit charging. So even though my husband was drowning in work this week, preparing for Advent and Christmas services while simultaneously trying to complete the requirements for several graduate courses in which he was enrolled this semester, he took me out shopping for a new phone a few nights ago. We drove about two minutes away to our newly constructed neighborhood T-Mobile store and quickly settled on the model shown below. After factoring in a rebate plus the credit we received for renewing our T-Mobile contract (which recently expired), our cost was $49.99 for a Motorola phone that has a 2.0 megapixel camera, a memory card, video capability, voice recognition and command capability, a music player, and stereo Bluetooth connectivity (not that I really know what all that means, but it sounds pretty good, doesn't it?).

Oh, and best of all, it matches my blog!

While we were comparing models I asked the sales representative about how long the average cell phone lasts. She said that if you get two years out of a phone (mine was a little over two years old) you are doing remarkably well. Does that sound right to you cell phone users out there? If so, we'll probably be repeating this shopping trip soon because our other phone is also two years old (we don't have a land line anymore). Our sales rep added that she personally changes her phone about every six months either because she has damaged it or because she is simply bored and ready for a change. What I want to know is, where does a 20-something young woman working at T-Mobile get the kind of income that would allow her to trade up her cell phone every 6 months? (She acknowledged that she gets much higher-tech models than the one we purchased.) Oh yeah, I forgot--we're church musicians with three kids and a mortgage. That might explain it!

By the way, that same dear husband who took me shopping followed up our excursion with a stop at Boston Market so that I wouldn't have to cook supper. (My plate has been pretty full this week, too.) Am I one lucky girl or what?

Now if I can just figure out how to make this phone do all the stuff the box says it can do.

Beginning Chess Book

For anyone interested in a beginning chess text, here's a great one to consider. It is newly released and comes highly recommended, as it was written by my son's chess teacher, Grandmaster Yury Shulman, and Rishi Sethi, one of his students. I have personally looked at the book and think it would be an excellent teaching tool for the beginning player. (Hmmm, maybe if I get my own copy I will finally understand a little of what I am seeing when I watch my son play chess!)

The book is available for $21.70 plus shipping. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to chess education efforts in the United States and worldwide. To purchase a copy, email Kiran Frey at kiran47@hotmail.com

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The More the Merrier

This was my four-year-old's bed shortly after he woke up this morning.

Can you tell he doesn't like to sleep alone?

Two More

After this, I promise no more quizzes for a while. I think the first one is somewhat accurate:

What City Should You Live In?

You should live in New York City. America's largest city will ensure that you will blend into the crowd. You are the brooding type--introspective, creative, and eccentric--and NYC's cutting-edge, individualistic culture and ambience will appeal to you.
Find Your Character @ BrainFall.com

But whoever wrote this next one needs to find a different line of work. Me? Lucy Van Pelt? I grant that I'm a pretty good organizer and usually feel confident that I know what's best, but aggressive? Insensitive? (My husband is rolling on the floor with laughter right about now.)

Which Peanuts Character Are You?

You are Lucy van Pelt. You know what you want and you know how to get it, even if it means pulling the football away. Your forwardness sometimes comes off as aggression, and you have some work to do in the sensitivity department.
Find Your Character @ BrainFall.com

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Laziness

This blogging thing is so interesting. It really has me hooked, so much so that every few days I have this irresistible urge to post--something, anything--like an itch that needs to be scratched. But considering that I have only gotten about 5-6 hours of sleep the last few nights in a row and that I might get 7 (woo-hoo!) if I go to bed now, I will say good night and leave you with yet another quiz. (Who writes these things, anyway? And how do they make a living?)

What Kind of Drink Are You?

You are a Fine Glass of Wine. You are sophisticated and refined, but also complicated and hard to deal with. Not everyone loves you, but those who do swear that you're the coolest thing since sliced bread. One of these days the people that matter will understand you. Until then, you will be sitting on your throne as the distinguished product that not everyone has the taste to appreciate.
Find Your Character @ BrainFall.com

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Santa's Workshop

Christmas is only two weeks away! Here at the Round Unvarnished Tale, preparations have begun in earnest. Click here and here to see some of Santa's elves hard at work.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Happily Ever After?

While doing some driving yesterday I stumbled upon a live radio broadcast of Oprah Winfrey's speech endorsing Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Iowa. During the approximately 10-minute period of time that I listened, there was one statement of Ms. Winfrey's that started alarm bells ringing in my ears. I'm not sure if I have the quotation exactly right, but the "gist" of what she said was this: "Human beings were put on this earth to evolve." In the context of a political speech, her point was of course to hold up Obama as a candidate who can help us to do that--who by virtue of his leadership and character and philosophy will enable the American people (and by extension their country and their world) to become the enlightened and perfected individuals we all know they were meant to be. And then there will be peace on earth and an end to poverty and we'll all live happily ever after.

The same hope is apparent in a "Christmas" song that has become popular in recent years (I guess it's popular, because I continually hear it on the radio, sung by everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Barbra Streisand to Natalie Cole): "My Grown-Up Christmas Wish." Have you heard it? Here's the opening verse and refrain:

Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you
With childhood fantasies
Well, I'm all grown up now
And still need help somehow
I'm not a child
But my heart still can dream
So here's my lifelong wish
My grown up christmas list
Not for myself
But for a world in need
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list.
It's no wonder this song is so popular. Not only does it feature the lush pop diva ballad style--complete with a modulation into a fortissimo repetition of the refrain that shows off the singer's prodigious pipes--but it also reflects the philosophy that dominates our collective American mindset these days and was the foundation of Winfrey's speech: that if we just put our minds to it and follow the Golden Rule (and in the case of most politicians, spend enough money) we can create a perfect (or near-perfect) society on earth.

Yet as a conservative Christian and confessional Lutheran, I know another truth: this world is doomed, and there's nothing we can do about it. In the words of a friend of my husband, "It's all gonna burn." That doesn't mean that we shouldn't love and care for one another and try to make the best of our time in this earthly realm--that's what our Lord would have us do. But to labor under the assumption that we can by our efforts stamp out the effects of original sin is to sentence ourselves to despair. There is one line in the lyric above that I find particularly tragic: "That time would heal all hearts." In the face of my daily trials I am sustained by the knowledge that my heart is already healed by the death and resurrection of my Saviour. I can't imagine the sadness of a heart that is waiting to be healed by the passing of time.

It vexes me that the average American--whether or not he or she agrees with Winfrey's politics--would likely listen to her speech yesterday and accept its premise that the point of our existence is to make ourselves and our world better. In the world of argument, faulty premises logically lead to faulty conclusions. The premise upon which I stand is the truth of my sin and my need for a Saviour, and I know that if I cling to that premise the conclusion will take care of itself.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Christmas Spirit

My friend Elizabeth (a.k.a. "Muddy Boots") has a thoughtful post about what is commonly referred to as the "Christmas spirit." She writes about the challenges her family was facing at this time last year and the resulting impact on her outlook, making it difficult for her to embrace all the "holiday" festivities.

I know what she means. A few weeks ago I asked my husband in complete seriousness if we might forego decorating this year because the thought of it filled me not with anticipation but with dread. It's not that I was feeling particularly negative or down at the time (although I have had my share of that in recent months) but that in my exhaustion (resulting from one of the more difficult years we have had in some time) I just couldn't "wrap my mind around" all that "needed" to be done. And the more I thought about it the more I truly believed I might be better able to reflect upon and prepare for the Nativity of our Lord if I just didn't have so darn much to do.

I think I caught my husband somewhat off guard with my question because I have always been one to desire the full Christmas "experience": the cards, the decorations, the food and the gift-giving. When I was younger that's what I thought Christmas was mostly about because in my experience the outward observance of Christmas was all the Christmas there was. But having in my adulthood come to a fuller understanding of the Gospel, I now understand (like the "Whos down in Who-ville") that Christmas comes with or without all the trappings and that in fact the "to-do" list can distract us from the heart of the celebration. The irony is that in my willingness to consider a Christmas without decorations, the decorations became not something I have to do but something I want to do.

So we will go out next week to chop down a tree, and we will bring it home and decorate it, and I will be glad we did. But I may not open every Christmas box that is stored away in our garage, unpacking decorations and trying to find places for them all just because we have them. And our holiday correspondence may be an Epiphany rather than a Christmas letter. And as much as I would like that letter to include a family photo, our dear ones just may have to keep "Christmas 2006" on the refrigerator for one more year. Because I think I have finally realized that if our Christmas celebration becomes law-driven ("I just have to get this done") it ceases focusing on Christ and ends up being all about us. And then we truly do miss the point.

So this year I'm letting myself off the hook and leaving Christmas up to Christ. Regardless of what I do, He will come, and when He does, that will be Christmas.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Another Quiz

I know, I know, it's the tell-tale sign of a lazy blogger. But literary type that I am, I just couldn't pass this one up:

What poetic form are you?

I am the sonnet, never quickly thrilled;
Not prone to overstated gushing praise
Nor yet to seething rants and anger, filled
With overstretched opinions to rephrase;
But on the other hand, not fond of fools,
And thus, not fond of people, on the whole;
And holding to the sound and useful rules,
Not those that seek unjustified control.
I'm balanced, measured, sensible (at least,
I think I am, and usually I'm right);
And when more ostentatious types have ceased,
I'm still around, and doing, still, alright.
In short, I'm calm and rational and stable -
Or, well, I am, as much as I am able.

To take the quiz yourself, click here.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Who in the Heck is John Cox?

According to this Candidate Calculator, he is the candidate that I should be supporting in the presidential race. Has anyone heard of him? Here is his website, a short biography, and a list of his stands on the issues.

This calculator assigns percentages to the presidential candidates that represent the extent to which each candidate aligns with one's beliefs. Here is a listing of my percentages in the order they came up in my results (I think there are miniscule differences among those with the same percentage that result in their being ranked in the order shown.)

John Cox - 95%
Tom Tancredo - 95%
Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson - 90%
Rudy Guiliani and Duncan Hunter - 85%
Sam Brownback - 75%
John McCain - 70%
Ron Paul - 60%
Joe Biden, Barack O'Bama & Bill Richardson - 45%
John Edwards & Mike Gravel - 35%
Hillary Clinton - 30%
Dennis Kucinich (who Gene Veith calls the New Age candidate) - 10%

It figures. The best candidate for me is one that has no hope in the world of getting the nomination, much less winning.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

100%? Me?

Not to diminish my friend Rebellious Pastor's Wife , who also got 100%, and who truly is a Biblical and theological scholar (believe me, I've been blessed to hear her wise words from across my very own kitchen table), but this must be some easy quiz, because in spite of the fact that I daily come face to face with my own Biblical ignorance, I nevertheless got this result:

You know the Bible 100%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Fashion Rant

What is the deal with fashion designers these days? Do they have a sadistic streak? Or are people really buying the stuff they put out?

My daughter needs a few new items of clothing. She is 12 years old, thin and tall for her age, placing her in that awkward zone between girls' and junior sizes. Size 16 pants are often too short, but junior and misses sizes are too full-figured (and often not suitable for a 12-year-old . . . heck, come to think of it, they're often not suitable for me). So it's hard to find a good fit.

Right now I am looking at dresses for her. I used to have some success buying them through Ebay, where it is still possible to find beautiful, girlish styles (at reasonable prices) with brand names like Bonnie Jean and Rare Editions. But now that my daughter is reaching the top of the girls' size range I hesitate to buy without first having her try something on (or having the option to return, which you usually don't get with secondhand stuff on Ebay). So I have been visiting the girls' and junior departments at a few of our local department stores. The problem is, I can't find anything I would want to buy for her, even if we could find the right fit. It's just all so yucky! (Sorry for the vocabulary lapse, but I honestly can't think of any word that better reflects my reaction.) Everything looks like it came from Goldie Hawn's closet on the old Laugh-In television show.

And the junior and misses departments are no better. Thank goodness I'm not in the market for a new dress for myself right now. I just hope my closet holds out until designers (and consumers) come to their senses and remember the definition of the word "pretty."

Sunday, December 2, 2007

My Friend the Biologist

A few months ago in one of the more widespread memes making its way around the blogosphere, I nominated some of my favorite reads as "Thinking Bloggers." Since then another blog has come to my attention that I would have included at the time had it been in existence. The author is a friend, a homeschooler, a fellow musician, a young confessional Lutheran, and a babysitter extraordinaire--my 4-year-old has been in love with her for years. If you have time, check out The Renaissance Biologist, especially yesterday's post about Garry Kasparov, which includes some new information (at least for me).

But be warned: Ms. Biologist is brilliant and prolific. If you visit her once you'll no doubt want to go back, which means you better figure out now how to increase your blogging time. Talk about a great advertisement for homeschooling!

Saturday, December 1, 2007


So what's your favorite mondegreen?

What? You say you don't know what a mondegreen is? Well, don't feel bad. Neither did I until last night, when my husband kept me up for over an hour, reading mondegreens to me until I was crying from laughing so hard.

And by the way, you and I actually do know what a mondegreen is, even if we aren't familiar with the term, which was invented in 1954 by a woman named Sylvia Wight. Ms. Wight wrote an article for Harper's magazine in which she related the experience of discovering that for years she had misunderstood a poem her mother used to read to her in childhood. The poem recounts the slaying of an Earl and goes on to tell of how "they laid him on the green," words which Ms. Wight wrongly heard as "Lady Mondegreen." In the article Ms. Wight included several other examples of misheard phrases that she said she would "hereafter call mondegreens." The term stuck, and over the last 50 years there have been numerous articles, books, and now websites devoted to the cataloguing and study of mondegreens.

Some of the best examples of mondegreens can be found in school children's faulty memorization of patriotic songs and recitations. William Safire pointed out several of these in a 1979 column in the New York Times: for example, the singing of "Jose, can you see" instead of "Oh, say can you see" in our national anthem or the pledging of "a legion" rather than "allegiance" to the flag (apparently some people even think that they're pledging allegiance to the republic "for Richard Stans" instead of "for which it stands"). Christmas carols and songs are also mondegreen minefields, where many a child has been known to replace "round yon virgin" with "round John virgin," "one-horse open sleigh" with "one-horse soap and sleigh," or "all of the other reindeer" with "Olive, the other reindeer." (You can find more Christmas mondegreens collected here by Snopes.com, but be warned, some of them contain objectionable language.)

To learn more about mondegreens and access additional links on the topic, check out this Wikipedia article; to laugh yourself silly for hours on end, spend some time at The Archive of Misheard Lyrics, which takes its web address (http://www.kissthisguy.com/) from one of the most famous mondegreens of all time, Jimi Hendrix's line from his song "Purple Haze": "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky," misheard by many as "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy." The Archive accepts mondegreen submissions from the public along with anecdotes about the circumstances under which the submitter discovered his error, and some of the stories are downright hilarious.

Here are just a few of the mondegreens that left me in spasmodic giggles last night:

"The girl with kaleidoscope eyes" heard as "the girl with colitis goes by" (from the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds").

"Hold me closer, Tiny Dancer" heard as "Hold me closer, Tony Danza" and "Count the headlights on the highway" heard as "Count the head lice on the highway" (both from Elton John's "Tiny Dancer").

The repetitive chant "Take a chance, take a chance" heard as "Jackie Chan, Jackie Chan" in Abba's "Take a Chance on Me." (The story that accompanies this mondegreen is rolling on the floor funny, describing the incredulous stares that the submitter received when she observed that Jackie Chan must have been really popular in Scandinavia for Abba to sing about him in their song.)

The more you think about mondegreens, the more pervasive you realize they are. My very own family is a virtual mondegreen factory, with two older children who go around purposely misunderstanding each other in the name of comedy and a 4-year-old who seems to come up with at least one mondegreen per day (a couple of recent ones are "I challenge you to a jewel!" and "Here's a letter from the ghost office").

So it's time to come clean--what mondegreens are part of your past? What songs have you belted out with gusto while taking a shower or driving down the road only to discover (perhaps under embarrassing circumstances) that you had the words all wrong? What sayings or poems did you learn incorrectly? To my church-going friends: what hymns, prayers or liturgy did you think you had memorized, only to discover that the words were not what you thought? (To help you get the synapses firing, here's one I heard recently from a young worshipper: "Thanks be to God" transformed into "Thanks Pizza God.")

If you're so inclined, kindly share your favorite mondegreens (family-friendly, please) in the Comments window, and we'll all enjoy some good belly laughs!