". . . 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)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bah, Humbug

I'm a Halloween Scrooge. Or maybe a Grinch.

Either way, I just don't get it. I don't get spending hundreds of dollars on decorations that don't make a house look prettier. I don't get taking little bitty children who can barely even say the words "trick or treat" around the neighborhood asking strangers for candy. I don't get voluntarily going to "haunted houses" to have the wits scared out of you. And I don't get dressing up in ghoulish, ugly costumes.

When my two oldest children were a lot younger, we did do some trick-or-treating. But we dressed them in cute, cuddly costumes. We generally only took them to houses of people that we knew or that lived on our street. And we stopped trick-or-treating long before they got to junior high.

The older I have gotten, the more I resent the whole Halloween ritual. I resent being expected to spend $20 or more on candy for kids I don't even know. I resent that many of the kids to whom I will give that candy will be taller than me and probably have more discretionary income. I resent the assumption that I will be participating unless I send some kind of overt message (such as turning off my porch light and hiding in the back of the house) that I am not.

One of the things I noticed upon moving from Texas to Illinois 14 years ago was a heightened appreciation of Halloween. It's not that we didn't "do" Halloween when I was growing up in Texas. But it has always seemed to me that there is a lot more effort put into it here than I remember as a child. Perhaps I am just paying more attention now than I did back then. But I was already an adult when I moved to Illinois, and I noticed the difference right away.

Another difference I noticed upon moving further north was the greater time and effort that people here put into their yards. As soon as temperate weather comes, the work of planting and watering and mowing and trimming begins, and it continues all summer with an intensity I never saw as a child. And indeed, the results are beautiful. I have always been impressed by the care that my fellow Illinoisians take with their homes and yards.

The more I think about it, the more I suspect that the two things are related. When you live in a climate that keeps you indoors for almost six months of the year, you cherish the times spent outdoors. When year by year you watch almost everything turn brown and die, you develop a high appreciation for the growing season. So maybe that's what Halloween is all about--a last fling, a parting hurrah for people who are about to be hit with winter in all its fury.

In that case I suppose I should have a better attitude. My husband says we should look at Halloween as an opportunity to be good neighbors--to build up our relationship with the people we live nearby. But it's hard to focus on good feelings when Halloween seems to be a lot nastier than it used to be. And I'm not the only one who has noticed an increasingly sinister element to this "holiday." (Hat tip: Dr. Veith.)

I think next year at this time I'd like to do something like this. Maybe then I would have a better outlook. Until then . . . bah, humbug.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pew Poll Follow-Up

Remember the old saying "Little pitchers have big ears"?

Well, that one came home to me in a big way during worship Sunday morning. We had just finished confessing the Nicene Creed, and the congregation was silently awaiting the start of the prayers when my 3-year-old, whom I was holding, turned to me and announced at full voice and with great conviction, "Democrats don't like church."

Oh my, talk about a red-faced moment--the timing couldn't have been worse. Yet even in my embarrassment I found myself struggling to hold in the laughter, wondering where on earth he came up with such a thing, since I promise it's not something I've been teaching him! (His grandma--my mother--is a lifelong Democrat and faithful churchgoer.)

The only thing I can come up with is that he must have been listening (and paying attention) as I shared some of the Pew poll results (see previous post) with my husband. And naturally he picked one of the quietest moments in one of the most inopportune places to share his little proclamation.

As I was sharing this story with a few friends in the church office yesterday, expressing my concern over what those who may have overheard might think, I again repeated that this is not something I would teach my children since their very own grandma is both a Democrat and a faithful Christian. Evan was with me at the time, and when I got to this part of the story he suddenly turned around, looked up at me, and asked in a wondering voice, "Grandma is a Democrat?"

Oh dear. I think this child and I need to have a little talk.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Pew Poll on American Religious Beliefs

On one of my recent automobile excursions I found myself listening to the radio call-in program of Dr. Dean Edell. (I know, I know, he's a anti-religion liberal, but I'm a sucker for talk radio, and this being a weekend rather than weeknight evening, the pickings were slim.)

On this particular program, Dr. Edell was (as he is wont to do) straying from purely medical topics into more political arenas as he shared the results of a recent Pew Research Center study on Americans' attitudes toward religion. Dr. Edell, a secular humanist, was celebrating the poll results as reflecting a positive movement in the American psyche from a reliance on the irrational--namely, faith in God--to the rational--namely, faith in human reason. As I listened to the statistics from the study, I became increasingly discouraged. Here's why :

"In Pew surveys since the beginning of 2006, 12% identified themselves as unaffiliated with a religious tradition. That compares with 8% in the Pew values survey in 1987. This change appears to be generational in nature, with each new generation displaying lower levels of religious commitment than the preceding one. . . . In addition, political differences in levels of religious commitment are larger now than in years past. Republicans are at least as religious as they were 10 or 20 years ago, based on the numbers expressing belief in God, citing prayer as important, and other measures. By contrast, Democrats express lower levels of commitment than in the late 1980s and 1990s."

Interestingly, although Edell was equating the erosion of religious faith with greater reliance on human endeavor, the study reflects a younger generation that is increasingly skeptical about the future in general as well as about government's ability to solve problems. Those same young people are also less likely to be politically informed and to exercise their right to vote. Hmmm, maybe lack of faith leads to cynicism?

Other trends noted by the poll include increasing acceptance of homosexuality; rising support for affirmative action; declining numbers of people describing themselves as subscribing to "old-fashioned values"; rising support for government welfare, even if it means increasing debt; and a declining percentage of people who describe prayer as an "important part" of their daily lives or who say they never question the existence of God. All of the above trends are particularly pronounced among younger voters. (And once again, it is ironic that people who express cynicism about government are simultaneously looking to government to play the leading role in solving societal ills.)

I think it is that aspect of the study--not the trends themselves but the fact that most of them are manifested to the greatest extent among younger voters--that I was most struck by. The responses of each generation (pre-Boomer, Boomer, and Generation X) have remained fairly constant over time. But in each successive generation the percentage of people describing themselves as atheist, agnostic, or religiously unaffiliated has risen, culminating with almost 20% in the youngest respondents (Generation Y).

What does this all mean? To me it is crystal clear. Our largely secular, liberal public school system is succeeding in its indoctrination of America's youth, assisted by an equally secular, liberal popular culture. Considering that the average American child is probably awake no more than 16 hours per day, and that half of those hours are spent in school and another 3 or 4 hours are spent watching programming and listening to music that celebrates immorality in the name of tolerance and freedom, the results of the Pew study are no wonder at all.

Listening to the radio and reading this study, I felt myself becoming extremely discouraged at what sounds like a significant shift in American opinion. For the last generation we have seemed to be moving towards embracing more traditional, "family" values. But this poll suggests a major turnaround.

But I take comfort in the knowledge that notwithstanding the results of this poll, I see all around me increasing numbers of parents who are deeply concerned about the values their children are receiving at school and as a result are pulling those children out of school and taking them home, where their parents can have a greater influence on the worldview that they are being taught.

I also take comfort in the knowledge that because of their embracing of life and family and faith, many of these same parents are expressing their hope for the future by having children at greater than the "replacement" rate, building a generation to which they may impart their values and which in another 20 years may spearhead another sea change.

Click below to read either a summary of the study or the full report.

Summary

Full Report

I'm an INFJ

I recently stumbled across an intriguing site linked by my buddy-in-blogging Barb the Evil Genius (affectionately known as BTEG). It's a 4-question quiz utilizing aspects of the Meyers-Briggs personality test to identify one's blogging style. After taking the quiz I discovered (as expected) that my blogging style reflects my Meyers-Briggs personality type: INFJ.

Here is my blogging style, according to Bloginality (you may need to scroll down).

Here is a longer description of the INFJ personality type, according to The Personality Page, an online personality testing site based on Meyers-Briggs principles (disregard the new-age astrological stuff--that's not from Meyers-Briggs). I took the Meyers-Briggs test during employee orientation for a position as an academic advisor years ago, and I was impressed then by the accuracy of the results. The above summary is still a fair description of my personality. I didn't know that it is apparently the rarest personality type of all! (I think that's kinda cool, especially since I have always seen myself as more of a "blend into the wallpaper" type rather than someone who is unusual or unique.)

If you have never taken the Meyers-Briggs test and have an opportunity to do so someday, I would recommend it. It's quite long but extremely wide-ranging and thorough, which in my opinion is why the results tend to be pretty accurate. I found it interesting when I took the test to learn about the four spectrums along which personalities may be measured (Introvert-Extrovert, Intuitive-Sensing, Feeling-Thinking, and Judging-Perceiving) and to learn the meanings of those spectrums, which may not be what you expect. The Introvert-Extrovert spectrum, for example, has less to do with whether one is shy or outgoing and more to do with where one gets energy (from within or without) and in which "world" one tends to primarily live (the inner world of the mind or the outer world of the environment). By visiting the link above you might be able to get an idea of your overall personality type, but taking the actual test would give you a better indication of where exactly you lie within each spectrum (for example, how extroverted or introverted you are). Even with one personality type there can be significant variation because of the differences in where people of that type fall on a particular spectrum.

One last fun aspect of the website from which I got most of the above links consists of pages outlining how the various personality types may be manifested in a person's choice of career and his or her behavior in relationships with significant others, friends, and children. For my readers who might be interested (I'm thinking husband, children, and close friends), here's a description of the INFJ as spouse, parent, and friend. Here also is a description of the INFJ as worker and a listing of the best career choices (whaddya know--the list includes religious worker, teacher, medical doctor, dentist, psychologist, counselor, social worker, musican, photographer, and child care worker. Sounds like that pretty well sums up my two primary "jobs": homeschooling mom and self-employed musician!)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Do You Have AAHIADMD?

A friend recently forwarded me a cautionary note about AAADD - Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder. After reading of her case and carefully considering my own experience, I have decided that I too am suffering from this disorder, but that I have a specific strain known as AAHIADMD--Age Activated Homeschooling Induced Attention Deficit Mommy Disorder. As a service to my readers, I hereby post my own case study so that anyone else who is suffering may recognize the potential seriousness of the situation. If you find that you have experienced symptoms similar to those below, I urge you to seek help immediately.

I wake up and go downstairs to start the coffee. But as I head for the coffeepot, I decide to check my email. On my way to the computer, I notice some toys and books that the children left out the night before, so I head to pick them up. The first one I grab belongs in the bookcase upstairs, so I walk towards the stairs to carry it up. At about that time, I see the dog coming down to go outside, so I lay the book on the stairs and let the dog out the back door. As I look out the window, I realize the newly planted grass needs watering, so I go outside to turn on the hose. But at about that time, the dog asks to come back inside, and seeing her dirty paws I stop to wipe them before letting her in. But before I can do so, I hear the phone ring. So I leave the dog outside and go to answer it. However, I am too late to take the call, and it goes to voice mail. I resolve to listen to the message later.

I am starting to get a headache, so I head towards the coffee again. But first I decide to put some wet clothes in the dryer. Arriving in the laundry room, I discover that there are dry clothes in the dryer that need to be hung up before the wet ones can be transferred over, but now they are wrinkled from sitting. So I put the dryer on "de-wrinkle" and head back to the kitchen. On the way I pass by the dining room and notice the children's schoolwork from yesterday sitting out on the table. I still have not checked it. So I head for the table, thinking I will at least check their math before making coffee. I get through about half of one page and then remember I never wiped the dog's paws or turned on the hose. So I get up and again start towards the back door, but at about that time the dryer buzzer goes off, indicating it's time to take the clothes out, so I switch directions and head for the laundry room instead. But suddenly a voice comes from above: "Mommy, I need to go potty!" The 4-year-old is awake. So I go upstairs, greet him, and start changing his clothes, only to discover there is no clean underwear in his drawer. No problem--there are clean ones in the sock & underwear basket in the laundry room. So I go downstairs to get a pair. While I'm there, I start the dryer on "de-wrinkle" again. As I head upstairs, one of my older children, who is now awake, asks me a question about his assignments for the day. I go to answer but then notice another child, also now awake, letting the muddy dog in the back door. I scream "No!" but it is too late. Muddy dog is already running across the carpet. I go to grab the dog and put her back outside. Then I come back in and try to remember what I was about to do. I've only been awake for an hour, but I'm already exhausted. Not only that . . .

The coffee has not been made.
The schoolwork has not been checked.
The question has not been answered.
The toys and books have not been put away.
The voicemail has not been listened to.
The email has not been read.
The grass patch has not been watered.
The dog is covered with mud, and there are muddy pawprints all over the main level.
The clothes in the dryer have still not been hung up and are starting to wrinkle again.
There is a naked child running around the house.

I realize this is a serious problem, and I'll try to get some help for it, but first I need to go make some coffee . . . .

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wednesday

A few of my blogging friends have recently written posts detailing their daily routines. Having found it highly interesting to read about how others (especially homeschooling moms) spend their time, I herewith offer my own blow-by-blow of a typical day. If this bores you to tears, feel free to navigate away at will. But for anyone who is interested, here's what I did yesterday.

5:00 a.m. - Alarm goes off. Snooze for 10 more minutes.

5:10 a.m. - Get out of bed, stagger downstairs and make coffee.

5:20 a.m. - Pray. Check email, blogs & morning news.

5:45 a.m. - Prepare for literature class: review today's stories (O Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief" & Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party") and grade essays.

6:30 a.m. - Eat breakfast, chat with husband who has now awakened, unload dishwasher, load dirty dishes, wipe down cabinets.

7:00 a.m. - Shower, blow-dry hair, put on make-up, make bed.

7:45 a.m. - Wake up 3-year-old and get him ready for preschool.

8:15 a.m. - Wave good-bye to husband and 3-year-old.

8:20 a.m. - Get dressed. Carry up some clean laundry and carry down & sort dirty. Switch wet clothes to dryer and start another load to wash. Finish laying out materials for class.

9:00 a.m. - Greet class. Talk to a Dad for 15 minutes.

9:15 a.m. - Teach literature class.

10:30 a.m. - Conference with student about her essay.

10:40 a.m. - Send email to piano students I need to reschedule. Feed birds. Get ready to pick up 3-year-old at preschool.

10:55 a.m. - In transit. Pick up 3-year-old and drop off two literature students on the way. Breathe sigh of relief when preschool teacher gives me thumbs up meaning 3-year-old didn't hit anyone today.

11:30 a.m. - Go outside with 3-year-old and water grass patch while he plays on the swingset. Take towels out of dryer for folding. Switch wet clothes to dryer. Prepare and eat lunch. Instruct older children to clean up while 3-year-old and I go lie down.

12:30 p.m. - Lie down with 3-year-old. Doze off while he watches PBS.

1:15 p.m. - Get ready to take daughter to art class.

1:30 p.m. - Take daughter to art class at day school. While waiting for her (the class is too short to merit going back home), go to husband's office to talk about family & household stuff. Make some photocopies for husband. Return home with daughter.

3:00 p.m. - Read to 3-year-old.

3:15 p.m. - Run errands. Return video to library that was left at home when we went yesterday. Pick up drycleaning. Buy stamps at post office.

4:00 p.m. - Read aloud from The Yearling to older children. Try not to collapse into a blubbering idiot at the sad part.

4:45 p.m. - Get ready for piano students.

5:00 p.m. - Teach piano lessons.

6:00 p.m. - Cook and eat frozen pizza.

6:45 p.m. - Get ready to go to nursing home and give instructions to children on what to do in my absence.

7:00 p.m. - Drive to nursing home. Listen to Sean Hannity on the way.

7:25 p.m. - Visit with my mother.

8:20 p.m. - Drive home. Listen to Sean Hannity again.

8:45 p.m. - Read to 3-year-old and get him ready for bed. Tuck him in and say prayers.

9:15 p.m. - Welcome husband home. Chat while he warms up a can of soup for his supper.

9:20 p.m. - Send 3-year-old back to bed (he heard Daddy come in).

9:30 p.m. - Tell older children good night, wash face, brush teeth, get myself ready for bed.

9:45 - Check email & blogs again, work on post about my day.

10:30 - Talk to husband.

10:45 - Turn out light. Confirm alarm is still set for 5:00 a.m. Experience difficulty falling asleep even though I am tired beyond words.

What was good about this day:

1) Literature class. I really like literature class.
2) Reading to my children. It's one of the few things I seem to be able to slow down for.
3) A chance to talk to my husband without interruption.
4) Blogs and email.
5) Visiting my mom and seeing an upturn in her mood.

What I didn't like about this day:

1) I didn't get any exercise.
2) I didn't read my Bible.
3) My children ate frozen pizza for supper.
4) My husband ate canned soup for supper.
5) My husband was gone from the house for 13 hours. After I went to bed, he stayed up another half hour doing homework.
6) I feel like my children fended for themselves too much, especially the older ones with regard to their schoolwork.
7) Various tasks I hoped to complete are still undone and must be planned forward yet again.

Today (Thursday) will vary somewhat from yesterday: instead of literature class, we will have family devotion and French class with Dad. There will be no nursing home visit or driving to preschool and art class, but there will be more housework and laundry (as my friend Laura likes to say, "the laundry is never done"), three hours of piano students instead of one, plus adult choir at church tonight (2-1/2 hours including travel time). There will also be another round of errands to run (pick up raw milk order, go to pet store, shop for groceries, go to Caribou to get a new bag of coffee). Taking all of that into account, there is probably even less breathing room today than yesterday.

Short of giving up my email and blogging time and sleeping even less than I do, I am at a loss for how to squeeze more into my day. But I am also constantly frustrated by the things that don't get done. And I worry that my children are suffering under the shadow of a mother who is so feverishly trying to check things off the task list that I have forgotten how--as James Taylor advises--to "enjoy the passage of time." This is one reason I cling to my email and blogging time--it is about the only thing I do purely for my own enjoyment, and I think these days it is keeping me sane.

Time to get ready for French class! Have a good day, everyone.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Liturgy Solutions

Over two years ago Liturgy Solutions, Inc. announced the launch of its website providing new, downloadable and thoroughly Lutheran music for the liturgy. Since that time, the Liturgy Solutions catalog has grown considerably, as its founders seek to provide introits, graduals, verses, psalms, and hymn stanzas for every Sunday of the church year according to both the one-year and three-year lectionaries. Collections are made available on a seasonal basis, and after purchasing, customers have the permanent right to make unlimited copies for their congregation's use.

Liturgy Solutions describes its goal as one of providing "fresh liturgical music with integrity for the 21st-century parish." The roster of composers is an impressive array of some of the best Lutheran musicians creating new music today. (Full disclosure: one of the composers and co-founders of Liturgy Solutions is my husband.)

How interesting it was, then, to discover the newly announced line from Concordia Publishing House entitled Acclamation. According to CPH, Acclamation "provides fresh [emphasis mine] musical settings of the Introit, Psalm of the Day, Gradual, Gospel Acclamation, and Hymn of the Day stanza for each Sunday of the Church Year as well as the Festivals and Holy Days. Supporting both the three-year-series and the one-year series of propers, Acclamation will be available through the Internet for purchase on a weekly basis. Once the download has been made, the purchaser has permission to make enough copies for local use by the choir or soloist."

Hmmm . . . looks like a good idea is catching on! Here's to competition. But might I add that the cost for one Sunday worth of Acclamation downloads is $10, while the cost for a Liturgy Solutions booklet, covering an entire season of the church year, ranges from $30-40. In addition, Liturgy Solutions is now offering "breakout" booklets whereby the consumer can purchase smaller collections (for example, psalms or hymn stanzas only) at even less cost. Finally, Liturgy Solutions has a track record of proven quality and rich variety from its diverse and talented cache of composers.

If you've never checked us out, come on over and take a peek! And if you see anything that might be of interest to your own congregation, please pass on our site address to your pastor and/or musician.

Okay, commercial over. Now back to your regularly scheduled blogs.

Word Fun

Driving home from choir this evening, my daughter and I observed a football practice underway. In light of the weather conditions (cold and drizzly), I remarked that I didn't envy those young players having to "rehearse" in the rain. After giggling about my choice of a musical word for a non-musical activity (and observing that one can both rehearse and practice a song but that one can only practice football), we began to muse on the word "rehearse." My daughter first considered the parts of the word, noting that it appears to be a combination of the prefix "re-" and the root "hearse," but indicating that she was not familiar with the word "hearse." So I defined it for her as a vehicle that carries the coffin in a funeral procession, but then went on to say that I found it hard to imagine a connection between "hearse" and "rehearse" and suspected "rehearse" was more likely traced to the verb "hear," since when we rehearse something there is an element of "re-hearing" it.

So much for my amateur attempt at linguistic analysis. When we arrived home we went for the dictionary and found that according to my Concise Oxford English Dictionary (which I absolutely love for the etymology and which my aging eyes love for the clean and legible format), "rehearse" likely comes from the Old French "rehercier" and is a combination of the prefix "re-", meaning "again" (at least we got that much right) and the root "hercer," meaning "to harrow." The definition of "harrow" is "an implement consisting of a heavy frame set with teeth or tines which is dragged over ploughed land to break up or spread the soil."

Huh? And from this we get both "hearse" and "rehearse"?

My Concise OED explains it far better than I can:

"The modern meaning of the word hearse is far removed from that of its ancient roots. It derives ultimately from a word in an extinct language of southern Italy, signifying a wolf's teeth. This word was absorbed into Latin as hirpex, denoting, with reference to the implement's teeth, a large rake. This entered Old French in the form herce, meaning 'harrow'. In English a hearse was originally a triangular frame similar in shape to an ancient harrow, designed to hold candles. From this it became an elaborate framework or canopy constructed over the coffin of an important person prior to their [sic] funeral. By the middle of the 17th century the word referred to a carriage built to carry a coffin, from which evolved the modern hearse, or funeral vehicle."

Okay, so that explains where we get "hearse." But what about "rehearse"? How does one get from a farming implement to a verb that means "to practice"?

Seems like an awfully big leap. But if you think about it, perhaps it's not such a leap after all. When one rehearses, what does he or she do but dig deeper into the thing being rehearsed--whether a musical work or a speech or a play--plowing it as one plows the earth to loosen the soil and make it more fertile than it otherwise would be. As I am continually trying to explain to my piano students, effective practicing (or rehearsing) is not merely superficial repetition of notes, but investigative study that goes beneath the surface to analyze the underlying patterns, structures, and form of the work.

Then of course, there's "harrowing" . . . but no, I think I'd better stop now. Otherwise we'll be here all night, jumping from one word to the next like one of those cowboys hopping between the roofs of train cars in a motion picture Western.

I just love the English language.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Triple Tagged!

This one is called "Seven True Things About Me" and it seems suspiciously similar to the "Eight Things You Might Not Know About Me" meme of a few months back, but hey, who am I to argue? Especially since ElephantsChild finally got her act together and responded to one of these in a timely fashion and since not only did she tag me but so did Mumme Mom and Uvulapie's Girl. (I have never felt so popular!)

So here goes . . .

1) I have a serious sweet tooth, but I just don't get rhubarb pie.

2) I also have issues with brussel sprouts and prunes. One of my elementary school teachers made me eat a prune at lunch one day (do elementary schools even serve such things at lunch anymore?), and unable to swallow the thing I had to retreat to the restroom and spit it out in the trash can. This was obviously a formative experience of catastrophic proportions for me, seeing as how I remember it like it was yesterday.

3) I did not have the best childhood but now have a husband and children that have far surpassed my dearest hopes for family life. After the faith granted to me in baptism and the salvation given upon the cross, they are my greatest blessings.

4) I am too inclined to let daily life drag me down to the point that I forget to be thankful for #3. Please forgive me, dear Father in Heaven.

5) I just became a Crunchy Crustacean in the TTLB ecosystem. I like the sound of that better than Wiggly Worm (which is what I used to be), but I'd much rather be a Flippery Fish like Barb the Evil Genius or maybe even a Flappy Bird--do I even know any Flappy Birds? I know I'll never approach Large Mammal status like my superstar blogging buddy Lora. But one can dream.

6) I am by nature a neat and organized person (one of those oddballs who always kept a clean bedroom growing up), but I am by necessity learning to relax somewhat about cleanliness. There are more important things in life than a clean house. And life goes by way too fast.

7) I am not very domestic and don't quite get the passion (although I completely respect and admire it) that some people have for cooking and sewing and other such home-enhancing activities. If I had more time in my life, I would probably spend it selfishly reading or writing or playing the piano or exercising rather than making my family's life better. Sorry, family. I guess I'm basically a selfish person. But please see #3 above.

The wrap-up to this thing is that I'm supposed to tag 7 other people. So AmusedMomma, Kathy, Kristi, Lisa, Pamela, BelleArtMom, Chris, Susan K., Caitlin, and Barbara, it's your turn! (I know, that's 10, not 7--I guess I just feel like sharing the joy. And in light of #5 above, links back are appreciated!)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Another Thinking Blogger

Not long ago I ran across a blog that I found sufficiently intriguing to inspire repeated visits (and a spot on my list of links). Like me, the author is a wife, mother, conservative, and Christian, and those vocations are reflected in her posts, which cover a broad range of topics with particular emphasis on the political. She is also a fine writer whose viewpoints are not always strictly in line with typical conservative Christian opinion (if there is such a thing).

Here are links to two recent posts reflecting a level of reflection and independence of thought that I find worthy of consideration:

The Anchoress on Ann Coulter
The Anchoress on Christians and the Third Party Gambit

For a rollicking good laugh, you might also want to follow the links in her October 16th post to some real-life college essays as well as a mother's firsthand account of explaining the facts of life to her son (spew alert!).

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Good Ending

As mentioned in the previous post, my son played in a chess tournament this weekened, one which I entirely missed out on because I had another very important engagement. This was his first time to play as an Expert (he has played other Experts before but has not officially competed since becoming one himself).

He had a fine weekend, finishing with 2-1/2 points (two wins, two losses, and one draw) in a very tough section. He also gained three rating points, moving from a 2000 to a 2003 rating and thereby creating just a little more breathing room for hanging on to that Expert status.

Since I was out of town and my husband was handling the tournament logistics by himself (along with caring for our youngest child and managing the normal weekend responsibilities), it was necessary for Trevor to be dropped off at the tournament and left to chaperone himself for certain periods of time. Considering his age and tournament experience plus the fact that he was competing at a familiar and secure location, we felt fine doing this after giving him clear guidelines about where he could and couldn't go.

But what also helped greatly was that community I wrote about in the previous post--the knowledge that the tournament site was crawling with people we know, particularly parents whom we specifically asked to look out for Trevor while he was on his own.

How ironic, then, that in Trevor's last "board" he found himself sitting across the table from one of those very good chess friends--a young man he always enjoys seeing and playing, both in formal competition and in "skittles" (casual play just for fun), and whose parents have long been a source of encouragement and wisdom to us in our own chess adventure. Trevor and Eric have had parallel chess "careers" for many years now, a parallelism that I dare say will remain for years to come as we continue watching the two of them grow both in their chess and their lives.

Thus it is fitting that in this final game of the tournament, played against a friend (and--I must add--formidable opponent), the outcome was a draw.

Congratulations to both players on an excellent performance, and thanks to ChessDad and his lovely wife for being our son's second parents this weekend. We look forward to seeing you all again very soon (maybe next month?).

Because I wasn't around to take pictures, and Trevor's dad is not the "shutterbug" I am, I can't provide any tournament photos. But here's one from the archives, showing one of the numerous times these two young men have found themselves having to face each other in competition (this particular photo was taken at the Illinois State Scholastic Championship a few years ago):



I think I will have plenty more opportunities to take photos like this one.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Community

Our family spent the weekend separated along gender lines. My daughter and I went to the Rockford area to spend time with several other homeschooling Lutheran moms and daughters, while my husband stayed home with my two sons and supervised the older one's participation in a weekend-long chess tournament.

It's interesting that these two events coincided because as I reflect on the weekend it occurs to me that although the members of my family were engaged in different activities, we were in one respect doing the same thing: seeking community where it is to be found.

We hear a lot these days about the importance of diversity--of being exposed to those who are different from ourselves. And I would agree there is great value in that. Not only can we learn from those of different cultures and interests and backgrounds, but understanding those differences often leads to a deeper appreciation for our own identity.

Yet I think it is a natural human impulse to seek out others like us, who share our interests, passions, values and beliefs. When we are among people with whom we share common ground, we are encouraged by the sense of community that we find there. So when my husband or I takes my son to a chess tournament, and we have the opportunity to visit with other parents who are paying for chess lessons, shuttling their children to and from tournaments, and watching those children undergo the intense pressures of competition, we are built up in our vocation of chess parents. And when our son is able to spend time with his fellow chess players and friends, playing games against real flesh and blood people instead of online opponents, and talking the special language that only they fully understand, he is encouraged in his vocation of player and student.

And when my daughter and I are able to go away together, and spend time not merely with other moms and daughters but with moms and daughters who home school and who share the same confessional Lutheran faith that we profess, we are nourished in our vocations of mother, daughter, teacher, student, Lutheran, and Christian.

Sometimes it is good to be challenged--to step out of our comfort zones and experience new things. Doing so can be exciting, energizing, inspiring, and motivating.

But it is also good to feel oneself surrounded by people who understand you because they have "been there" and done the precise thing you are doing. There is no need to explain or defend or promote because they simply "get it." The freedom and relaxation that are to be had in such an environment are valuable indeed.

So to all of you who "get it"--in one way or another--thanks for being our extended family this weekend!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Caitlin




Last week I wrote about the day my first baby was born. Twelve years ago today I took my inaugural look at number two.

Although it was almost two weeks past her due date, she was in no hurry to make her entrance into the world, having apparently grown fond of the ready food supply and warmth of her Mommy's tummy. But that Mommy was not so patient, nor was her doctor, who had concerns about the continued growth of an already good-sized baby.

So on a mild Wednesday evening in mid-October of 1995, my husband and I climbed into our little blue Honda Civic, waved at the soon-to-be big brother and his grandma standing in the front door of our house, and reported to the hospital for an induction. Labor set in and quickly progressed, making for a long and sleepless night (for some of us at least--I have a feeling our evening arrival at the hospital was designed to give the doctor a good night's sleep and a convenient morning delivery). Then at 6:33 a.m. on October 12, 1995, I was handed what would turn out to be my biggest baby, weighing in just short of 10 pounds at 9 pounds, 12 ounces.

We named her Caitlin Marie. I must admit a touch of surprise when I first beheld my baby girl. She had so much hair! And how dark it was! Soon that straight, almost black hair would turn in to strawberry-blonde curls that would remain for many years, until the sheer length and weight of them finally gave way to waves.

Sandwiched between one big and one little brother, Caitlin is not only the middle child but is also my only girl. Perhaps, then, that is why when I look at her I see so much of myself. Indeed, we have much in common, sharing not only physical attributes but also our love for literature, music, and writing. We are also both known in our household for being just a tiny bit emotional and prone to tears, but hey, what else is to be expected from such highly sensitive and poetic temperaments?

Yet my little girl is so much more than a "mini-me." She is entirely her own person, someone I look at with admiration and awe. Where I am careful, she is adventurous; where I am "by the book," she is creative and experimental; where I am task-oriented, she is welcoming of distractions, wisely seeing that sometimes the best of life is to be found in the distractions.

Caitlin was baptized in the name of the Triune God on November 12, 1995. Since then, I have watched that little baby who kept me up all night growing into a young woman who still likes to stay up late, driven by a creative spirit that doesn't want to quit just because the sun has gone down and the clock says it's bedtime. Sometimes in the morning as she wraps the blanket around her and rolls over for just a few more minutes of slumber, she reminds me of the baby girl who wanted to stay snug inside my tummy instead of getting born. And then, when she finally crawls out of bed and greets me with a hug and smile, I pinch myself to think that God saw fit to send her to me--my little girl, who is now one of my best friends.

Happy birthday, Caitlin, with all my love. When I grow up, I want to be just like you.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Teaching Writing

My kids are good writers (at least the oldest two are--it's still a bit soon to tell about the 3-year-old). One of them knows it; the other one still needs a little convincing. But the fact is that when they have something to say they are generally able to clearly and effectively put it down on paper.

The irony is that their mother--who has a degree in English and many years of classroom experience--did not teach them how to do this. In fact, the truth is that I have not had them do much formal writing at all. They write letters to family, and thank you notes, and one of them enjoys writing stories and poems, but we have done very little grammar or spelling instruction and spent almost no time on the writing "process" (the idea that there is a foolproof "step-by-step" plan that can guarantee writing success). Yet on the occasions that I have assigned a report or essay I have been quite pleased with the caliber of writing submitted.

So I can't help but wonder, when and how did my children learn to write? It is a question I have considered more than once over the years, with regard not only to them but also to myself, because for as long as I can remember I have been a pretty decent writer, but I can't for the life of me tell you how or when I learned to do it. In fact, I remember feeling bored and frustrated with all the grammar and writing instruction I had to sit through in school and wishing I could just get on with the assignment. And now that my own children seem to be fairly fluent writers I have questioned the need to bother teaching them rules of grammar and diagramming and such: I mean, do you really need to know what a dangling modifier is if you never write one? (I know, it's a scandalous thing for a writing teacher to say.)

The more I have thought about it, the more convinced I have become that the secret to being a good writer is twofold. First, be a reader. When one spends days and months and years immersed in good writing, one develops an ear for the language and how to use it. This is one of the great benefits of starting to read to children early and continuing to do so even as they become teenagers: they encounter good writing not only with their eyes but also with their ears (something that is otherwise not a given since so much of everyday conversation is rather haphazard and fragmented).*

The second "secret" to good writing is to have something worthwhile to say. When one has things to communicate that one cares about, there is an effort made to find the best combination of words to get the ideas across. I think a lot of the bad writing that children do in school is largely the result of an attitude that is mostly interested in completing an assignment, not truly being understood. And who can blame them? When the focus is the process ("Class, today we're going to write a comparison/contrast paper") rather than the content, writing becomes an exercise or a chore instead of a means of sharing ideas. People love to communicate--to be heard and understood--and children are no different. For evidence we need look no further than the explosion of email and instant messaging and blogging over the last 10 years. And when someone wants to be heard, and he cares about his message, he is willing to put forth time and effort crafting that message.

Last night as I was musing on all of this with my husband, he came up with what I found to be a striking musical analogy (he, like I, is a musician). He said he remembers as a young jazz pianist being preoccupied with the "changes," meaning the chord progressions of songs, and spending a great deal of time analyzing and memorizing them as he tried to come up with "licks" (melodic patterns) that would fit various chords. He was approaching the musical challenge before him in a decidedly mathematical way, focusing on the theory and the underlying structure.

There's a place for that kind of study, in both music and writing. But I think sometimes we make it the focus of our approach rather than a supportive element. My husband says he also remembers teachers and musicians he respected advising him to just "learn the tunes"; in other words, to go and listen to a lot of jazz music and to become musically literate in the genre in the way that a well-read person is culturally literate. Doing so would increase his musical vocabulary and sharpen his ear, allowing him to become a better musician in an organic rather than purely studied way.

I think another analogy can be made in the way teachers are trained these days. Instead of being allowed to focus primarily on their subject matter, they are made to take all kinds of classes in educational theory and method and practice. This time spent learning "how" to teach is time that could have been spent learning more about what they are going to teach.

People today want easy answers. They want "how-to" outlines and plans for success in all kinds of things (just look at the popularity of self-help literature and the "Idiots" and "Dummies" series of books). In school, students and their parents want to know what's going to be on the test so they can study up on the necessary points to get a good grade. And writing teachers and students want to be able to point to a system that will guarantee a successful paper.

But I would argue that when we take a "just the facts, ma'am" approach to the teaching of writing we are actually working against ourselves, making the task harder than it needs to be by trying to come up with a one-size-fits-all plan (and in the process killing a lot of the natural curiosity of the learner). Instead, a more successful approach (in our house, at least) is to read, and read, and read some more. And when the reading results in a question being asked, or the need for some analysis or summary, you have yourself an essay prompt, one that has grown naturally out of the educational environment and that has some motivational power behind it. And once that essay is written, time can be spent refining and polishing it so that it carries its message as effectively as possible--a task that is infinitely more interesting than completing a list of ten or twenty sentences in a grammar workbook.

(*A Beka educational publishers offers a book called Oral Language Exercises that utilizes the concept that people need to hear proper English in order to internalize it. The book contains lists of sentences that follow certain patterns and that are to be read orally so as to develop in the student an "ear" for proper usage. It's not a bad idea, but I would much prefer to read a good story out loud to my kids than to inflict a bunch of boring sentences on them, and I think the reading aloud over time accomplishes the same thing.)

Silly Church Signs

I think I need to start keeping a list of silly church signs. I saw another one yesterday with the following message:

"Faith is a journey, not a destination."

Where do these things come from? "Vapid Church Slogans Unlimited"?

Sorry, I guess I'm being snarky. But if you don't mind my saying, faith is neither a journey nor a destination. It is a gift, the starting point from which the Christian life flows. To describe it as either a goal or a process is to essentially misunderstand it.

Maybe what this church is trying to say is that the Christian life is a journey. I could accept that. And as an English teacher, I sympathize with the challenge of putting words together effectively, especially when you are working within very tight parameters.

But maybe instead of trying to come up with pithy statements, it would make more sense to quote a line of scripture. Our God does have a way with words.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph. 2: 8-9)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Doves

Ever since my mother's car accident almost two months ago, I have been taking care of her pet doves. I have never had birds before nor have I ever wanted to. Sure, they're pretty, and sometimes they make a nice cooing sound, but you can't hold or cuddle or walk them, and they don't greet you at the door or come when you call, nor do they fetch things or do tricks or lick you affectionately or give you a big goofy smile with their tongue hanging out the side of their mouth. And boy, can they make a mess. So all in all, birds have just always struck me as being a lot more trouble than they are worth, essentially decorations instead of pets, and not nearly as much fun.

So why, then, do I find myself baby-talking these doves when I take the sheet off their cage in the morning? And why did I buy them a little extra birdie treat on our last visit to the pet store? And why do I find it endearing when they come to the bars of the cage and look out expectantly at "dinner time"? And why did it put such a big smile on my face when one of them jumped on my arm the last time I put my hands in the cage to tend to them?

My mom has been talking about how she thinks she is simply not up to caring for birds anymore, even once she has returned home. I hope she changes her mind, because I think they have been and will continue to be good for her. But if she doesn't, I would like to state for the record that I am not keeping these birds.

I'll say it again: I am not keeping these birds. Please feel free to remind me of this post in the future.

To see a picture and learn more about diamond doves, click here.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Birthday Pictures

Thought I would share a few pics from the birthday celebration yesterday. The day began with literature class, which we wrapped up early to allow for some free time with friends. After the students departed, we had a small family affair--chili for lunch, followed by present opening, followed by cake (and some brownies for the chocolate lovers). Trevor was gifted with a 4x4 Rubik's cube, a new video game, several works of fiction, including Ender's Game (thanks for the suggestion, ElephantsChild!), a couple of new People's Bible Commentaries to add to his growing library, and some cash from grandparents. As you can see, it was nearly impossible to get a photo of Trevor without his little brother!




This last photo is courtesy of Little Sis, who is looking forward to her own birthday next week. I think I'll appoint her my official photographer--a little blurriness goes a long way towards softening those wrinkles!



By the way, Trevor, did you notice that your birthday greeting had the distinction of being my 100th blog post? :-)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Happy Birthday, Trevor


Fifteen years ago today I had a baby. He was my first one.

It was a Saturday morning, and I had been experiencing increasing discomfort since Wednesday night, but I was still not sure if I was in labor, having not experienced a definitive moment of doubling over pain. I didn't want to be one of those ladies who shows up at the hospital, gets a polite but patronizing smile, and is sent home to wait for the real labor to start. So although my husband had been suggesting a trip to the hospital for some time, I kept saying, "No, let's just wait a little longer."

Finally, seeing my increasing distress, my husband insisted that whether I liked it or not we were going to the hospital. But because we had not had lunch and were both hungry, we stopped on the way for frozen yogurt. By this time I was starting to think that maybe I was experiencing the real thing after all, since as we were walking to the yogurt shop from the parking lot the discomfort was such that I had to stop temporarily.

When we arrived at the hospital the nurse took one look at me and said "You're not going anywhere, honey--you're dilated to five!"

At 10:43 p.m. that night I had a 9-pound, 7-ounce baby boy with blue eyes and bright red hair. His Daddy was there beside me and cut the umbilical cord. Then, since we had also not had supper that day, we celebrated by ordering pizza.

That baby boy is turning 15 years old today. As I look at the man he is becoming, I am filled with wonder that the Lord has entrusted him into my care. He is as handsome as they come, and his accomplishments are prodigious, excelling as he does at chess, piano, voice, and academics.

But what gives me even greater joy is the knowledge that on November 1, 1992, he was baptized into the Lord's family and that he continues to embrace the faith that was given to him on that day. And that faith is shown forth in his life, as he is one of the most upright of character, kind-hearted, gentle and wise souls I have ever known.

Happy birthday, Trevor. I am blessed to be your mother, and I love you with all my heart.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

More on Fred

Last week I did some musing about the Republican primary race, particularly the candidacy of Fred Thompson, and linked to two opinion columns highlighting various doubts about whether he can mount a successful presidential run.

Several days ago I came across another analysis with a very different point of view. The writer strongly believes that Thompson will win not only the Republican nomination but also the White House. A confident Republican? Yeah, it got my attention, too. To read more, click here.

Monday, October 1, 2007

He's Not Running

Click here to read the Fox News story on Newt Gingrich's announcement two days ago that he will not be seeking the Republican nomination for president. Apparently he discovered that to even explore a candidacy while heading up the non-profit organization American Solutions had the potential for violating campaign finance law. Unwilling to leave his new project so soon after its inception, he has ruled out running for president at this time.

On the one hand, I have a lot of respect for someone who says "I made a commitment to this vision and I'm not going to toss it aside just because of the possibility of catching an even bigger fish." There is no guarantee that a presidential run would have been successful, whereas American Solutions seems to be a movement with a future. On the other hand, I have to say I find it surprising that a guy as smart as Gingrich would not have researched the law well enough before now (or had his lawyers do so) to know what was at stake. But maybe that's just a testament to the complexity of McCain-Feingold: even Gingrich didn't fully understand it.

I for one am disappointed. I was looking forward to a Gingrich run, for reasons previously outlined. Now it looks like I have to give up on that possibility and accept that the Republican dance card is pretty much filled and that it's time for me to start getting to know all of these candidates a bit better so that I can make an informed decision next year.

I just wish my card had one more name on it.