Friday, November 30, 2007
But I agree--sometimes they can't be beat for getting at the meat (I'm on a roll today, aren't I?) of what you want to say.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Yet if you think about it, the reason a cliche becomes a cliche--the reason it is overused in the first place--is that it contains truth. And at one time it was vivid in its freshness, a particularly striking image for its intended reader or listener.
Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about:
"Take time to stop and smell the roses."
"Don't count your chickens before they're hatched."
"Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today."
All three are such well-worn phrases that they float in and out of our brains without leaving much of an impression, yet they contain wise words that any of us would do well to heed.
Take that last one, for example. Sometimes if you put something off too long, the opportunity to act recedes entirely. So someone else gets the last piece of pie. Or that skirt on the sale rack gets purchased by another shopper. Or that dear old person dies before you get around to visiting. And sometimes you miss doing the thing you should have done by just a matter of days, and you kick yourself even more (there's another useful cliche).
Here's a poem I really like by Sara Teasdale. (I think one reason I appreciate it so much is that when I read it I also hear the music that is paired with it in a particularly gorgeous choral setting with which I am familiar.) It's about embracing life in its tinest moments, being willing to "spend" time on the beauty that is available for "purchase." Some people might find even this poem a bit cliched. I still like it.
The U.S. response has been decidedly weak, with vacuous comments about one friend (I guess that would be the United States) counseling another (our buddy Russia) not to do things that are detrimental to its own well-being.
I am disappointed that our government did not greet this action with the condemnation it deserved. And I think this is one brave man.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Then again, maybe I just need to cut back on the French roast.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
"Wednesday, May 4, 1983 - Paul Laxalt came by to talk a little politics. He's being pushed by friends who want to start fundraising etc. for '84. We agreed it was not a good idea." (p. 149)
Did you get that? With his bid for re-election only 18 months away, President Reagan decided it was too early to start talking about fundraising.
Granted, he was an incumbent, and we are currently looking at heated primary races in both the Democratic and Republican parties. But it nevertheless seems like these presidential campaigns are getting longer, and longer, and longer . . .
Thursday, November 22, 2007
If so, check out this new voice, quickly distinguishing itself as one to hearken to among the growing din of political commentary:
Boris the Labradoodle
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
The tournament site was the Kings Island Resort & Conference Center (right next to the Paramount Kings Island Amusement Park). The tournament sponsor, Continental Chess, negotiated an awesome room rate for participants, so we enjoyed a resort atmosphere at a budget hotel price.
Here's a picture of our accommodations . . .
. . . and the view from our room.
The amenities included a playground which Trevor's younger siblings enjoyed making use of.
Mom and little brother even got in some tether ball.
There were other amenities available that we did not make use of, including an arcade and pool (one of us accidentally left her swimsuit behind). Mostly we enjoyed reading, eating, walking, blogging, watching movies in the hotel room (we finally saw The Princess Diaries six years after its theatrical release), and sleeping.
And oh yeah, one of us played some chess! Because he is moving beyond the "shake hands with your opponent and smile for the camera" phase (some of his opponents are middle-aged and older people who frankly don't care to smile for the camera), I don't have any photos of Trevor from this trip. But I am exceedingly proud to report that in his rating class (Under 2100) Trevor was one of three players who tied for second place. There was also a tie for first place, so those two players split the first and second place prizes, and Trevor and the players with whom he tied split the third, fourth and fifth place prizes. To see the final results, click here and scroll down to the Under 2100 list.
People tend to be highly impressed when Trevor brings home prize money, but frankly what interests him more is seeing his rating go up, and that happened again with this tournament, as he gained 15 points (moving from 2003--just barely an Expert--to 2018--an Expert with a little cushioning!). On the final night of the tournament, I was approached by a young man in his twenties who reminded me that several years ago he had played Trevor in the Chicago Open (Trevor would have been 10 or 11 and this young man 18 or 19 at the time). He shook his head, remembering the boy he had played and the fact that at the time he and Trevor were in the same rating class, but observing that now Trevor's rating is more than 400 points higher than his. Smiling ruefully, he asked me how these young players manage such huge leaps forward. I told him what I have been told by other chess parents--that something seems to happen in adolescence that spurs a cognitive explosion, and it is common to see the young chess player experience remarkable improvement in a short period of time. But I also shared that Trevor's improvement is the result of serious study and hard work over the last five years as he has taken lessons from Grandmaster Yury Shulman and spent countless hours reading books about chess and analyzing games, both his own and those of others. Excellent performance in chess, as in anything else, is not just a matter of talent but one of skill as well, and that skill is only improved with long hours of study, hours that Trevor has most definitely been putting in for years now.
Congratulations, Trevor, and thanks from your family for a great weekend!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
So where does a Lutheran choir go for an overnight retreat? To a Lutheran camp, of course!
The retreat began at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday evening. After pizza, the choir gathered for its first rehearsal of the weekend:
Since there was no piano or organ available, we had to provide our own. Here's the Cantor leading us in warm-ups:
Between rehearsing, there was plenty of time for fun and fellowship. I think this is what you call a May-December romance?
Evan enjoyed bunking in the guys' quarters.
Behind every choir member is a supportive family. Here's one of our faithful altos and hers:
Bass and tenor foosball game:
The younger, more limber set enjoyed some Twister . . .
. . . while the more mature among us engaged in some sedater activity (wait a minute, one of those Twister participants managed to get in on the card action as well)!
There was also time for a little solitude. Here's our newly wedded "Unter-Kantor."
Walcamp definitely has a way of bringing out one's inner child (bonus points if you can recognize that goofy-looking gal on the left):
Our fearless leader, who if I may say so (I know I'm slightly prejudiced), did an "bang-up" job planning and executing an amazing weekend.
Our gathering came to a close on Saturday evening, giving everyone time to return home and prepare for Sunday morning worship. The consensus among those present (about two-thirds of our choir were able to attend) was that the time was exceedingly well spent. Not only did we improve ensemble singing and make significant progress on our music for the year, but for some this 24-hour interruption to everyday life came at just the right time, providing a much needed opportunity for reflection, relaxation and rest. And equally valuable was the chance for choir families to bond with each other--those spouses and children who fend for themselves every Thursday night so that their resident singer can rehearse, and who dutifully and uncomplainingly accept early-morning warm-up times and long mornings at church because the choir is singing for multiple services, and who repeatedly sacrifice the experience of sitting together as a family so that their family member can sit with the choir. Families of choir members are truly unsung heroes, and this was a great chance to affirm them as well.
I don't know if the family choir retreat will become an annual event, but I definitely think there are more of these in our future!
Saturday, November 17, 2007
To demonstrate: a few days ago my daughter was writing at the dining room table when she looked up at me and asked how one knows whether to use "fewer" or "less" when referring to quantity. I was reminded of my years as a public school teacher, years during which I might spend an entire mini-lesson on such a concept, first defining the words and presenting examples and then having my students complete some sort of follow-up worksheet in which they chose the correct word or made up sentences of their own. Then I recalled how the very same students would turn right around the next day and incorrectly use one of those very words in their own writing (sometimes after "acing" the worksheet).
On this day I answered my daughter's question ("fewer" is to be used for things that can be enumerated, such as "fewer ice cream cones," whereas "less" is for collective amounts, as in "less ice cream"), and she immediately grasped the concept and applied it to the writing task before her. And I know that because that lesson was something that was initiated by her and that she cared about, the learning that took place will stay with her from here on out.
This brings me to what I think is one of the inherent problems with the traditional school paradigm: systemization.* As it attempts to cover all the bases by defining and codifying what the high school graduate should know, it sucks much of the joy and spontaneity from the learning process. Thus, students find themselves being force-fed information that they personally see no need to master and about which they have no curiosity.
As a homeschooler I am often asked "but how do you know that your children are getting everything that they need? How can you be sure that you are covering it all?"
My answer is that I don't and I can't. But I am comfortable with that because I don't think traditional schools can claim to be doing it either. And when I look at my children and see how much they desire and seek out knowledge, and I witness their love of reading and their joy at sharing the things they have learned, I know that my husband and I have made the right decision. I also know without a doubt that while there are certainly gaps in my children's knowledge (as there are in my own and in that of everyone I know--except maybe my husband!), they are capable of filling in those gaps because they can receive and process and think critically about the enormous volume of information that is available to them. And in the 21st century world, where information grows exponentially by the second, I think that is about the best one can hope for.
*I am dumbfounded whenever I see those lists of learning objectives--outlined to the fifth or sixth degree--that today's public school teachers are supposed to meet. I thought they were bad enough when I was teaching school. But like the very information that they are trying to sort and classify, they have grown exponentially over the years. No wonder both student and teacher burnout are also on the rise.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Now we are faced with the probability of Hillary's nomination, which means the strong possibility of a Clinton sequel. And it is for this reason that I hope and pray that anyone who does not want to see that happen will rally behind the Republican candidate come next November, because whoever he is, he will be the only hope for the "Stop Hillary Express" (as Sean Hannity is fond of saying). As I survey the field of Republican candidates I am still undecided about whom to support, seeing much to like but unable to settle on one person that not only inspires me but also reflects the majority of my beliefs while having some hope of winning the election. But I do think that every last one of them is preferable to Hillary, because I think that another Clinton presidency would be disastrous for this nation in ways we can't even anticipate right now.
To my Republican friends: this is not the year to stay home on principle. Vote your conscience in the primary, but please be ready to support the nominee in the general election. Otherwise the damage that is done may be with us for generations.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Seriously, without knowing what this little test takes into account, I'm not putting much stock in it. True readability assessments are based on much more than just vocabulary. If this one considers nothing more than that, I could easily envision a blog that is incoherently written and riddled with poor sentence structure nevertheless scoring at a high reading level simply due to the presence of a few big words. Conversely, I think it's possible to use "big words" in a reader-friendly way, defining them either explicitly or through context.
Still, this was a fun diversion. For some reason I couldn't make the link above live, so if you'd like to run this test on your own blog, click here.
Today as I was about 15 minutes into that priceless half hour of quiet time, my own little walking bottle of NoDoz managed to get by his older siblings and come bounding into my room with his latest request. When I instructed him to please ask his brother or sister because I was trying to rest he agreed to do so and as he was leaving the room turned around with a smile and spoke the following words:
"I love you, Mommy."
"I love you, too, Evan."
"Have a good rest, Mommy."
"Okay, Evan. I'll try."
"Don't forget to close your eyes."
Thanks for the reminder, honey.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
(And to all you smart-alecks out there . . . yes, all of our children celebrate birthdays in October. And I don't know what is so special about January.)
Since I told birthing stories about his siblings, here's the short version of Evan's. He was born right on time on his actual due date. I accompanied a choir rehearsal the night before, woke up at about 6:00 a.m. (just in time for my water to break), was driven to the hospital by my husband, and birthed Evan shortly after 12:00 p.m. Weighing in at 9 pounds, 5 ounces, he was my smallest baby, but he has turned into the most physically demanding child of the three. I'm not sure whether that's because he is actually more physical or because I am older, but I think it's probably a little bit of both. He is also my most gregarious child (poor thing--he is a total extrovert in a houseful of introverts).
At his birthday party we asked Evan what he wanted to be when he grew up. His answer: "Five." Then in an effort to clarify the question we asked, "But when you're grown up, Evan, what do you want to do?" His answer (delivered without a moment's delay): "Play with swords." I love this child's conviction. (And I'd say he already has a head start on the swords.)
Sometimes because of the 8-year difference between Evan and his older sister people ask if he was an "oops" baby. The answer is a resounding "no." Although there was a phase during which my husband and I felt settled in our family and thus did some reproductive "planning," within a few years we reconsidered that decision and began hoping for another child. But God in his omnipotence apparently decided that now it was our turn to wait, and wait we did, until both of us were almost 40. But how great our joy the day we welcomed this child into our lives.
It has not been an easy four years with him, because as he has so richly blessed our lives we have during that time also been burdened by much, and I sometimes struggle with a deep sense of guilt that I have too often viewed my youngest child as one of the burdens. For that I ask my Lord's forgiveness. For although Evan has sometimes challenged us in ways our first two children did not, he has also brought a sense of fun and adventure to our lives that I don't think would otherwise be there. And because of him we have all been called to love and serve more selflessly than we would have otherwise done.
Although Evan's biological birthday was almost two weeks ago, an even more important date for him was two days ago, on November 9. It was on that date in 2003 that he was welcomed into His Lord's family through the waters of Holy Baptism. Last week in observance of that occasion Evan's godparents invited his entire family out for dinner, and they followed dinner with another birthday party at their home, one at which a baptismal cake was served that consisted of a chocolate inside (depicting Evan's sinfulness), white frosting (depicting the perfection of Christ's sinlessness that now covers Evan), and blue sprinkles (depicting the waters of baptism). In addition to his family party and his baptism party, Evan also celebrated (for the third time in one week!) with his preschool class. Here's a photo from that celebration:
Happy birthday to my littlest sweetie!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
In the tradition of that great masterpiece I now humbly submit for your artistic edification this new work, surely destined to launch a career:
Thanks be to God for the modern technology (uh, camera) that has preserved this creation for generations to come!
Yet I can't help wondering if there are other reasons for this decision. Could it be that reigning city officials did not anticipate the public outcry that greeted this particular manifestation of Big Brother in my community and that they are hoping the outrage will diminish somewhat between now and election time?
Perhaps if and when the program is reinstated some common sense changes will accompany its administration and enforcement. I would welcome that. But any such changes will be too late to remedy the cash that has already been withdrawn from my household bank.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
It has been a long and difficult journey, and it is not completely over, but tonight my mother is sleeping in her own bed. Thank you to all who have prayed for her and who through your words and actions have supported our entire family during a very tough time.
"My loved ones, rest securely,
For God this night will surely
From peril guard your heads.
Sweet slumbers may He send you
And bid His hosts attend you
And through the night watch o'er your beds."
("Now Rest Beneath Night's Shadow," Lutheran Service Book #880, Stanza 5)
Chris, you have a very observant eye. And indeed, the gray metallic item in the center of the photo does looook like one of those road-monitoring cameras, doesn't it? But in actuality what you are looking at is a magic cash machine.
Yes, you heard me correctly. It's a magic cash machine. In fact, in my fair city there are now three of them, generating thousands of dollars a day for the city treasury. You see, the cash machines are equipped with cameras (you got that much right, Chris!) that take pictures of drivers traveling through selected city intersections. If a driver fails to adhere to the strict letter of the law with regards to stopping at a red light, he is photographed and billed to the tune of $100 for his infraction ($25 more, incidentally, than he would pay for a speeding ticket in the same location). In addition, he is directed to an online site where he can view a video of himself that may very well reveal that his only infraction was stopping with his bumper or front wheel slightly over the white line or perhaps pulling over the white line in an effort to gain visibility that would allow him to safely turn right on red.
Some city leaders claim that the magic cash machines have nothing to do with generating funds but are actually an effort to increase safety. Several facts, however, give the lie to that claim. First and foremost is the fact that not one of the cash machines was installed at an intersection in my town that several years ago was named the fourth most dangerous in the entire state of Illinois. It is also worth noting that the magic cash machines were placed at no cost by an outside company (that coincidentally contributed generously to the current mayor's reelection campaign) with the provision that the company would get a percentage of all cash generated. Additionally, the cash machines are administered not by the police department but by an outside firm which sends bills and collects payments on behalf of the city. The bills sent to violators are considered to be administrative fees rather than traffic tickets; thus, no traffic violation shows up on the driver's record.
Ironically, although the magic cash machines have generated prodigious amounts of money in the few short months they have been in operation, their prodigiousness may be short-lived. There is widespread talk among citizens of neighboring towns about altogether avoiding the red light trap that now exists in my city by boycotting the businesses that operate here. And while residents have experienced a highly unpleasant and rude driving awakening over the past several months, they are no doubt fast learning their lesson and appropriately modifying their driving habits.
Finally, the current mayor and city council may next year discover that property owners are weary of the black hole that our city treasury has become and may very well seek leadership that will not only be more fiscally responsible but will return us to the good old days when traffic was monitored by real life police officers instead of a pocket-invading Big Brother.
Until then, consider yourself warned. The magic cash machines are fast cropping up in cities and suburbs around the nation and may soon be making an appearance at an intersection near you.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Just curious whether any of my readers can figure out the point of this photo. Why did I take it? What was I trying to get a picture of?
For the record, there is an answer, and in a few days I'll post it. In the meantime, you're invited to leave a comment about what you think it is.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Five to ten courses to fix my life? Obviously this lady has not seen my life. But here goes . . .
1) Sewing. I took home economics when I was in high school, and I had an excellent teacher who successfully guided me through making a skirt and blouse, but I haven't really sewn since then. And I'd like to take this class with ElephantsChild, who tagged me, but since I am a first grade level seamstress and she is a graduate level one, I guess the only way we can be in the same class is if she's the teacher. How about it, ElephantsChild?
2) Church History. As I talk with fellow Lutherans and read some of their blogs, I constantly run up against my ignorance in this area. Since Indiana Jane also tagged me, I'll take this class with her. Just let me know the time and place, Jane!
3) Ballroom Dancing. My husband and I have taken several classes over the years, but it's hard to find opportunities to practice, so we find ourselves forgetting a lot of what we've learned. But not only is dancing a great way to get exercise (which I sorely need), it's a perfect excuse for going on a date with your sweetheart (and no children)! Shall we, honey?
4) Flower Arranging. I love flowers, and I love arranging things. So this one has been on my list for a long time.
5) Shakespeare. In spite of being an English major and taking several courses on his works, I still have not read them all. Maybe a class would finally motivate me to do it. But I need to write the syllabus so that it only includes the things I have not read.
6) Organ. I took one year in college and have forgotten everything I learned. This one is here to make my husband smile.
7) Home Repair and Maintenance. My husband and I are non-fixer-uppers with a fixer-upper house. So this course would include units on carpentry, plumbing, electrical wiring, painting, replacing carpet, laying tile and wood flooring, roofing, driveway pouring, and installing windows and doors.
8) Currency Trading. (So that I can make enough money to afford all the home repairs, which will be costly even if we learn to do them ourselves.)
9) Bible. Having not been taken to church until junior high, and having then been confirmed as a Roman Catholic (where the focus was on doctrine rather than the Bible), I have always felt lacking in my Bible knowledge. I have tried but repeatedly failed to read it cover to cover. I really want to do this before I die (and the words "before I die" are increasing in significance with every passing year).
10) Corporate Tax Law. Just in case Liturgy Solutions makes a profit some day.
11) Oh wait, I was supposed to stop at 10, wasn't I? See what I mean? It would take a lot to fix this life. I guess art history, gardening, cooking, interior decorating, world history, and furniture refinishing and reupholstering will have to wait (among others).
Tag time. Caitlin, Susan K., AmusedMomma, Glenda, and Muddy Boots, you're it!