". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Friday, February 29, 2008

Now Showing

I have a budding filmmaker in my house! If you could use a smile and have three minutes to spare, click here. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wondering What It All Means

George Orwell's brilliant and classic work 1984 depicted a futuristic society so mind-numbed and devoid of the ability to think for itself that the government was able to rewrite history on a daily basis while promoting slogans such as "Ignorance is Strength," "Slavery is Freedom" and "War is Peace." Many elements of Orwell's vision have not come to pass, but when he perceived that the key to controlling people is controlling their language, and by extension their thoughts, he got it exactly right.

Now we have a presidential candidate who, in spite of having the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate, has managed through sheer rhetoric to convince his followers that he alone has the ability to unite the various factions in the country and who in spite of promoting tired policies that have long since been revealed as ineffective has managed to position himself as the candidate of "hope" and "change."

Moreover, one of his most vocal supporters--and perhaps the most influential woman in the country--is currently promoting a year-long course which acknowledges its goal as being one of "mind control" and "thought reversal" and which, although it cloaks itself in the language of historic Christianity, is designed to convince its students that in recent years Christ has issued a new revelation that claims, among other things, that there is no such thing as sin and that a "slain Christ has no meaning." (Source--please read this.)

Meanwhile, in our institutions of higher learning young people are taught that one cannot read a text and decide what it means because words in fact have no objective meaning but instead are these slippery things that "deconstruct" before our very eyes. And since nothing really means anything, we are left with nothing to cling to, no standard of right or wrong, but instead only perception, all of which logically leads to an apotheosis of tolerance and inclusion as the highest ideals.

When Hamlet contemplates murdering his uncle in Shakespeare's tragic play, one of the arguments he uses to try to convince himself that the act would be justified is that "nothing is either right or wrong but thinking makes it so." We call it postmodernism, but the same relativism that envelops us today has been tripping people up for eons.

I am more worried about this country than I have ever been.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Angels of Mercy

Angel: a messenger of the Lord (source: Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod).

Mercy: compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power (source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary).

Angels of Mercy: my son's long-suffering and patient teachers, Mrs. B. and Mrs. W. (source: Round Unvarnish'd Tale).

Since September, my four-year-old has been attending preschool three mornings a week for 2-1/2 hours. Although we homeschool our older two children and fully intend to do the same with this one when he reaches first grade, we have decided that for the time being it is of great benefit to both him and to our household for him to attend our church's day school. As a mom who works part-time while trying to manage the house and homeschool one high school and one junior high student, I currently have neither the time nor the energy to provide the sort of daily stimulation that I would like my four-year-old to have (I have never been the crafty, hands-on learning type and coming up with those kinds of activities is a major creative challenge for me). Additionally, in a household in which there is an 8-year gap in age between the youngest and the middle child, my littlest boy does not have a readily available playmate. So the time he spends at preschool interacting with other children his age, building with blocks, singing songs, listening to stories, and drawing and painting and playing with clay is time exceedingly well-spent for him and useful for the rest of the family as we benefit from a few uninterrupted instructional hours at home.

At the same time the little boy in question started preschool, he began attending Sunday School classes at our church. Within a few weeks of both classes beginning, I was hearing the same thing from both his teachers: "Evan's having a little difficulty adjusting to the routine, but don't worry, we're working on it."

We've been working on it all year. It's not that he's a total terror in the classroom (at least, I don't think he is), but he has definitely proven to be one of the difficult ones. It seems that most of the problems arise from his propensity for immediately vocalizing (and acting upon) whatever he is feeling at the time. If he doesn't want to do the prescribed activity, he says so; if he wants something that someone else has, he takes it; if he is unhappy with one of his classmates, he does not hesitate to physically demonstrate that unhappiness. Sometimes it seems that he stubbornly refuses to participate for no other reason than that it's what the teacher wants him to do.

There has been an ebb and flow to his behavior such that it is sometimes better and sometimes worse. But through it all, my little boy's own personal angels of mercy have stuck with him, gently but firmly correcting him and never making me feel like the mother of the "bad" child. For this I love these two women more than I can say.

I'll never forget a few months ago at church. My husband and I make a practice of trying to check on our son during Sunday School hour, just to see how things are going. But on this particular Sunday neither of us made it to class, and my daughter picked up my son for me. When I saw the Sunday School teacher walking into church a little later I lifted my eyebrows with that quizzical "how did he do?" expression. She shook her head regretfully and laid the truth out there: "Cheryl, he was bad. Really, really bad. He wouldn't sit, he wouldn't mind me, and at one point he fell down on the rug and claimed someone pushed him. But don't you worry about it . . . we managed, and if anyone says anything to you about it, you just send them my way." (That last part gives me visions of sad-faced parents standing around the Sunday School room, shaking their heads in pity at the parenting challenges that lie ahead for Cantor and his wife.)

This woman's attitude towards my son is in many ways a microcosm of our Lord's Law and Gospel. Sin is real and ubiquitous, and the Father in His righteousness cannot ignore it or brush it away. He points us to His Law, which shows us the truth of our sin, and when we acknowledge that sin and turn to Him in our helplessness, He opens wide arms of forgiveness and invites us to hide ourselves in His robes of righteousness.

And I think that is what I most appreciate about both of my son's teachers. No matter how many times he challenges them or complicates the lesson they have prepared for him and his classmates, the next class meeting is a new chance for him, a fresh start. When he enters the classroom they look at him not with dread--"oh, no, here comes that bad child"--but with love and enthusiasm, brightly welcoming him with a smile that remembers not what happened the day before.

In the same way, when we as children of the one true God confess our sins and repent of them, our Saviour smiles with compassion, freely offering the salvation won for us on the cross, and sends us on our way, saying, "Go in peace; you are forgiven. I remember your sins no more. And if anyone gives you any trouble about it, you just send him my way."

"But this is the convenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. and I will be their god, and they shall be my people. . . . For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (ESV, Jeremiah 31: 33-34)


That's how much my husband single-handedly raised at a congregational dinner and auction held this past weekend to benefit our Lutheran church and day school.

So . . . considering that we have no possessions (excluding house and maybe cars) that would be capable of fetching such a sizable sum, the question arises, "How? How did he raise that kind of money?"

Well, you see, my husband is a musician, and a pretty good one at that. In fact, he is the chief musician (also known as cantor) at our church. So when he and other staff members were encouraged to come up with items or services they might donate for the auction, his thoughts naturally turned to musical considerations. And since he is also a gifted composer, it occurred to him that he might offer to compose an original piece of music--specifically, a hymn concertato--according to the specifications of the winning bidder.

Once bidding began, it became clear that this was going to be a popular item. So popular, in fact, that my husband was asked if he might consider donating not just one, but two compositions. He agreed, and in short order there were two winning bidders, each of whom had committed $2400 for a new concertato by my husband on the hymn of their choice.

But the observant reader points out that $2400 times two equals $4800, not $6100. So what of the other $1300? Well, also on the auction block this weekend was a hymn festival to be planned and executed by my husband (no doubt with plenty of help from the musicians of the parish). The winning bidder will be able to choose theme and hymns for the festival as well as designate a beneficiary for the free will offering that will be taken during the service (it is my understanding that the high bidder has already indicated his intention to make Lutheran Child and Family Services that beneficiary).

The fund-raising goal for this auction (which was a new thing for our church but which I predict will become a regular, perhaps even annual event) was $10,000 for the unified fund of the church and day school, with any amount above that goal designated for our organ repair fund. No wonder the cantor was especially motivated! Although the final figures are not yet available, I have no doubt we met and exceeded the $10,000. A tip of the hat to everyone who worked so tirelessly to make this event the success it was as well as to everyone who donated goods and services for the auction.

And to my husband . . . $6100 is a pretty impressive return on the time and talent that you will be investing in these projects, but I have to say that I'm not surprised, because in my book, you are positively priceless.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Loving America

Peggy Noonan nails it again. If you have time, read the whole column here. Here's one brilliant excerpt (emphasis mine):

"Are the Obamas, at bottom, snobs? Do they understand America? Are they of it? Did anyone at their Ivy League universities school them in why one should love America? . . . Have they been, throughout their adulthood, so pampered and praised--so raised in the liberal cocoon--that they are essentially unaware of what and how normal Americans think? And are they, in this, like those cosseted yuppies, the Clintons?

Why is all this actually not a distraction but a real issue? Because Americans have common sense and are bottom line. They think like this. If the president and his first lady are not loyal first to America and its interests, who will be? The president of France? But it's his job to love France, and protect its interests. If America's leaders don't love America tenderly, who will?

And there is a context. So many Americans right now fear they are losing their country, that the old America is slipping away and being replaced by something worse, something formless and hollowed out. They can see we are giving up our sovereignty, that our leaders will not control our borders, that we don't teach the young the old-fashioned love of America, that the government has taken to itself such power, and made things so complex, and at the end of the day when they count up sales tax, property tax, state tax, federal tax they are paying a lot of money to lose the place they loved.

And if you feel you're losing America, you really don't want a couple in the White House whose rope of affection to the country seems lightly held, casual, provisional. America is backing Barack at the moment, so America is good. When it becomes angry with President Barack, will that mean America is bad?

Michelle Obama seems keenly aware of her struggles, of what it took to rise so high as a black woman in a white country. Fair enough. But I have wondered if it is hard for young African-Americans of her generation, having been drilled in America's sad racial history, having been told about it every day of their lives, to fully apprehend the struggles of others. I wonder if she knows that some people look at her and think "Man, she got it all." Intelligent, strong, tall, beautiful, Princeton, Harvard, black at a time when America was trying to make up for its sins and be helpful, and from a working-class family with two functioning parents who made sure she got to school.

That's the great divide in modern America, whether or not you had a functioning family, and she apparently came from the privileged part of that divide. A lot of white working-class Americans didn't come up with those things. Some of them were raised by a TV and a microwave and love our country anyway, every day.

Does Mrs. Obama know this? I don't know. If she does, love and gratitude for the place that tries to give everyone an equal shot would seem to be in order."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

First Place in Milwaukee

This past weekend as presidential candidates and reporters were descending upon the city of Milwaukee in anticipation of Tuesday's Wisconsin primary election, another more intellectually stimulating event was also going on: the northern regional qualifier of the Amateur Team National Chess Championship. This tournament was different from the ones in which my son usually competes because it provided an opportunity for him to play on a team--something which many young players who attend traditional schools get to do but which he as a home educated person generally does not. So when the invitation came to play he enthusiastically accepted it.

For my non-chess savvy readers, here's a short explanation of how this tournament worked. Each team consisted of four players, each of whom played a certain position (determined by his rating) throughout the tournament: Board 1, Board 2, Board 3, or Board 4. In any given round, the players from one team went up against the players from another team, with the players on each Board position sitting across from one another. In order to win the point for that round, the individual members of a team had to score better overall than those of the other team. So if the round ended with 3 members of one team defeating those of the other team, that team won the point for that round. In addition to playing for their teams, however, players also competed individually for standing on their particular Board as well as for their own rating.

My son's team was the Wisconsin Chess Academy Surprise, so named because it was headed by Alex Betaneli (playing Board 1), one of the top-rated players and chess teachers in Wisconsin and the proprietor of the Wisconsin Chess Academy. Other members of the team were Ashish Vaja (Board 2), Erik Santarius (Board 3) and of course Trevor on Board 4. Ashish and Erik, like Alex, are among the top ten rated players and teachers in Wisconsin and are well-known in that state and beyond for their high achievement in chess. (Click here for more information on all three.) It was clearly an honor for Trevor to be invited to join this stellar group.

I wish I could write with some authority on the game play itself. Unfortunately, my understanding of chess extends no further than how the pieces move on the board (and I do well to remember even that). So on the occasions that I do venture into the tournament room to see how things are going, the best I can do is count the pieces on the board (hoping that Trevor has the same number or more than his opponent), check the game clock (again, hoping that Trevor has just as much or more time left than his opponent), and try to study my son's body language and facial expressions (very hard to do, especially as he is getting older). Sometimes I prevail upon a more knowledgeable chess friend to take a look at the board for me and come back with a report. But mostly I have learned to avoid the playing hall, realizing that my presence is generally more distracting than helpful (I am useful for providing snacks and drinks) and that I only succeed in stressing myself out by trying to watch the proceedings. So my time was spent reading (without interruptions--pure joy!), visiting with dear chess friends (those people with whom I have developed friendships over years of attending tournaments but that I generally only get to see at events like these), and trying to find a warm spot in the hotel that served as the tournament site (the constant opening and closing of the front door on this frigidly cold weekend turned the entire lobby into a veritable icebox). Oh, and I also spent some quality time at the home of our hosts for the weekend, dear homeschooling friends who happened to live only minutes from the tournament site.

But you don't care about how I spent my weekend! What you really want to know is, how did the team do? Do these smiles tell you anything? (Pictured from left to right are Trevor, Erik, Ashish, and Alex.)

The Wisconsin Chess Academy Surprise placed first in the tournament, and Trevor and Erik (both undefeated) placed first on their Boards. Team prizes were new Chronos blitz chess clocks and an opportunity to compete in the National Team Championship in April. Individual board prizes were memberships (or membership extensions) on the online chess-playing site, ICC (Internet Chess Club).

For another perspective (and more photos, including several of Trevor) on this tournament, click here. To see team captain Alex's write-up for the United States Chess Federation, click here. And finally, to see a full list of final standings and results, check the Wisconsin Chess Academy site, linked earlier in this article.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Civics/History Quiz

Feeling brave? Ready to test your knowledge of American history and government? If so, take this 60-question quiz from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The quiz is the same one given in the fall of 2005 to approximately 14,000 freshmen and seniors at 50 American colleges and universities (aside to my Lutheran friends--one of the schools tested was Concordia University-Nebraska). The results were profoundly disappointing, with seniors averaging 53.2% overall (54.2% when the same test was given the following year). Last time I checked, those are both failing grades.

Here is some background on the study, and here are the major findings, including the rankings of the 50 institutions where the test was given. The test was administered to both freshmen and seniors in order to study the effect of the four years of intervening instruction at the institution in question (across the board, that effect was decidedly disappointing). Be sure to click on the tabs at the top of the page to see all the findings, the third of which shows that CU-Nebraska is doing the best job among those schools surveyed of improving students' knowledge between their freshman and senior years.

By the way, my score was 54/60 (90%), and I am hardly a history or political science buff (just ask my husband, who is one). So that gives you an idea of the level of difficulty of the test as well as the magnitude by which this country is failing to properly educate its youngest citizens.

Hmmm, would those be the same young citizens who are currently lining up in droves to vote for Barack Obama? No wonder he is so successfully selling rhetoric without substance.

(HT: The Renaissance Biologist)

Bible Translations

I love the King James Bible. Maybe it is due to my general interest in language and literature and my particular affection for the English Renaissance--I also love Milton and Shakespeare and Donne--but I find the language of the KJV simply beautiful to read. If I am going to Sunday School or engaging in more in-depth study, I pull out my NIV (New International Version) because I have a study edition containing a multiplicity of footnotes and explanatory material. But if I simply want to read for the sake of splashing around in God's glorious word, there is nothing like the KJV for pure beauty of language. I know there are translations that are supposed to be easier to understand and more faithful to the original text (such as the new English Standard Version, or ESV), but there are just so many Bible passages that seem to lose something when I read them in a translation other than King James.

For example, in my Christmas Day post the King James translation was a no-brainer. As I compare it to the ESV, here is one notable contrast:

"And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. . . . He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received him not." (John 1: 5, 10-11, KJV)

Here's the same passage in ESV:

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him."

There are several things I like better about the King James version. For one, it has fewer words (and in my English teacher world, if you can say the same thing with fewer words you should). Second, I prefer the word "comprehended" to "overcome" because it seems to better capture the total emptiness and desolation of the darkness as well as the utter inability of that darkness to see or understand the light of Christ. And this reflects my Lutheran belief in the sinner's helplessness to come to Christ on his or her own. Finally, I love the parallelism as well as the emphasis that results from the multiple uses of "not" as the final word in the sentence: ". . . the darkness comprehended it not . . . the world knew him not . . . His own received Him not." The sinner is again well reminded of his hopeless condition and his natural inclination to say "no" to his Savior.

Another example of why I love the KJV can be found in one of the table prayers our family likes to use at mealtimes. (I have previously written about our mealtime custom here. ) The prayer is from Psalm 145 (verses 15 & 16) and is the one included in Luther's Small Catechism for asking a blessing before eating. Here it is in the King James translation:

"The eyes of all wait upon Thee, [O Lord,] and Thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest Thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing."

Here's the same text from the NIV:

"The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing."

From the ESV:

"The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing."

The Living Bible:

"The eyes of all mankind look up to you for help; you give them their food as they need it. You constantly satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing."

And The Good News Bible (yes, I even have one of those on my shelf):

"All living things look hopefully to you, and you give them food when they need it. You give them enough and satisfy the needs of all."

All I can say about the Good News version is yuck. The word "hopefully" suggests to me not faith or trust but doubt (we hope God will provide, but we aren't sure).

The NIV is in my opinion also lacking. "Food at the proper time" just sounds so clinical--kind of like we're patients in a hospital bed waiting for the orderly to come around with our lunch trays--whereas "due season" suggests our Lord's provision for us in all things. Notice, too, that both the Good News and NIV versions speak of God satisfying needs and desires (plural), whereas the ESV and KJV turn the plural into a singular (desire). To me that is an acknowledgment that human beings truly need only one thing to be satisfied, and that is the salvation of their Lord Jesus Christ.

The ESV is quite similar to the KJV in vocabulary and phrasing, but I still like the KJV better. Eyes that "look" seem to me to be more active, whereas eyes that "wait upon" are totally passive and dependent upon God to act. And the word "meat" seems to better symbolize that the prayer is speaking not just of physical food but of all that is essential to the life of the believer.

The ESV is the translation officially appointed for use by my church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. In time an ESV Study Bible will probably replace my NIV. But for me nothing will ever replace the KJV, which has well served the Church for almost 400 years and which I predict will continue to do so for many more years even as other translations may come and go.

For My Fellow Illinoisians (and a Few Others)

You know you are a true Illinoisian when . . .

Your local Dairy Queen is closed from November through March.

You see nothing odd about wearing shorts and a parka at the same time.

Vacation means going north or south on I-55 for the weekend.

You measure distance in hours.

You know several people who have hit a deer more than once.

It is not unusual to switch from heat to AC and back again in the same day.

You drive 65 mph through a raging blizzard without flinching.

You see people wearing camouflage at social events (including weddings).

You carry jumper cables in your car and know how to use them.

You design your child's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit.

Driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow.

The year has 5 seasons, and they are 1) almost winter, 2) winter, 3) still winter, 4) road construction & 5) hot.

Your idea of creative landscaping is a statue of a deer next to a blue spruce.

"Down south" means Missouri.

Brats are something you eat.

You have more miles on your snowblower than on your car.

0 degrees is defined as "a little chilly."

You know the difference between corn and soybeans at a glance.

You do not consider Chicago to be a part of Illinois.

A "hill" is any landmass higher than 20 feet above sea level.

(Hat tip to my mom, who forwarded this list to me.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

An Invitation

My son received a letter yesterday. He is one of 12 Illinois high school students invited to compete in the Illinois state qualifying round of the national Denker High School Tournament of Champions. The Denker tournament is probably the most prestigious chess event in this country for high school youth, and to be invited at all, much less in one's freshman year, is a significant honor. The Illinois state event is scheduled for the last weekend of March in the Chicago area; the winner of that tournament will receive a traveling stipend to represent Illinois in the national tournament to be held simulataneously with the U.S. Open in Dallas, Texas in August.

My son is thrilled by this honor, and of course so is his family. The winner of the national Denker tournament will receive a full 4-year scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas, an institution which is internationally known for its college chess team. Runners-up in the national tournament receive scholarship prizes as well.

But what thrills us most today is not the specter of scholarship awards, however exciting that possibility may be. College is still years away, and there is much learning and growing that will occur between now and then. As he this year competes at the state Denker tournament, my son will be one of the youngest players there, going up against prodigiously gifted opponents who have already participated once or twice or maybe even three times before as they vy for their own opportunity to represent Illinois at the national level.

No, what thrills us most is to see the tangible reward for hard work and effort and focus and concentration, all things that Trevor has been exhibiting for years now, not only in his chess studies but in all aspects of his young life. I am reminded of a few years back, when as a third grader Trevor played community basketball at our local parks & recreation department. He was neither the largest nor the fastest nor the most agile player on his team, and in time basketball took a back seat to the pursuits of chess and music (although he still likes to play for fun). But in basketball as in everything, Trevor always gave his all, and his coach recognized this fact and several times expressed his appeciation for the "heart" Trevor brought to the game.

That heart is still there, and it's going to take this young man far, no matter where his life may lead.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Blogger Question

All of a sudden my post footer information (date, comments, etc.) is squishing up against the bottom of each post. I don't like the way this looks! But I didn't change anything! Any more experienced bloggers out there know why this might have happened? It appears to me to be a template problem since it is happening on all my posts, not just the most recent.

Comments, thoughts or suggestions are welcomed!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

O Spring, Where Art Thou?

I Don't Get It

Mike Huckabee has no chance of winning the Republican nomination. Yet he says he's staying in the race to give conservative voters a choice. Pundits theorize that he's staying in so that he can come out of this election season as the national leader of the conservative wing of the GOP.

Is there anyone who can explain this to me? The conservatives I have been listening to over the past several months have been as vocal in their criticism of Huckabee as of McCain. (Well, almost as vocal.) They acknowledge that he is a social conservative but object mightily to his populist, tax-and-spend ways.

I'm not saying that Huckabee should get out. He has the right to do what he thinks he needs to do. But to people who now look to him as the best option for carrying forward the conservative agenda, I scratch my head and say "huh"? I think that candidate--take your pick of several--has already dropped out.

(So much for not writing about politics. I just can't seem to help myself.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Just Goes to Show You What I Know

After reading my last post, my precociously literary daughter decided to check up on me, and after grabbing her trusty dictionary pointed out the error of my ways: seems there are two entries for the word loan, the second of which identifies it as a verb and follows up with the note "see lend."

Well, so much for my English teacher credibility. Who's going to ever again trust my authority on a language or literary topic? And what am I going to write about now, since of late I have been thinking I need to lay off the politics for a while?

Guess you guys are going to be getting lots of recipes in the next few weeks. Oh wait, that won't work either, considering I have about five different boring meals I cook on a rotating basis.

This little blog may have to quiet down for a while. Good timing, too, since I have some other things I should be working on right now.

But to wrap up the point of this post--where on earth did I become so convinced of the rightness of my understanding that loan cannot be used as a verb? I remember being taught this and was so sure I was right. So I checked the online Merriam-Webster dictionary and found this note:

"The verb loan is one of the words English settlers brought to America and continued to use after it had died out in Britain. Its use was soon noticed by British visitors and somewhat later by the New England literati, who considered it a bit provincial. It was flatly declared wrong in 1870 by a popular commentator, who based his objection on etymology. A later scholar showed that the commentator was ignorant of Old English and thus unsound in his objection, but by then it was too late, as the condemnation had been picked up by many other commentators. Although a surprising number of critics still voice objections, loan is entirely standard as a verb. You should note that it is used only literally; lend is the verb used for figurative expressions, such as 'lending a hand' or 'lending enchantment.'"

So there you go. Back in the 19th century someone made a boo-boo, and here I am in the 21st century perpetuating it because somewhere along the way it was taught to me. But that's no excuse. I should have done a little checking before making my smart-aleck pronouncement.

So, just wondering . . . did anyone besides my little girl pull out a dictionary? Or did you just take my faulty word for it?

Friday, February 8, 2008


Every once in a while the English teacher in me just has to surface . . . .

All day long today in news reports on Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign funding "troubles" (I use quotation marks because there is some question about whether the whole thing was staged or real), I have repeatedly heard the statement--from news anchors, analysts and Hillary herself--that she had to "loan" her campaign money.

Wrong, wrong, wrong! "Loan" is a noun. "Lend" is a verb. So you take out a loan, you ask for a loan, you apply for a loan, you are turned down for a loan . . . but you lend someone money (or better yet, someone lends it to you). To say that you loaned your campaign money (as Hillary did) is just bad diction.

Sorry--this kind of stuff pains me, and today it was so pervasive that it gave me a bona fide grammar headache. But writing about it is like taking a pill. I feel better now!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Random Thoughts on a Thursday Night

I miss my husband.

Mitt Romney is a class act.

Oh darn. I forgot to order the raw milk today.

Somehow I need to start practicing that Solo & Ensemble & choir music and working on the personal and corporate taxes.

If I can get through the next four weeks the rest of the year will be a breeze. (Someone remind me I said this later in the year.)

Will I ever get the master bedroom cleaned up?

What is it about snow plows and mailboxes?

The laundry is never done. (I know, I stole that from her.)

I get to see some of my Lutheran homeschooling friends for the next two weekends in a row!

I am a poor, miserable sinner.

I think we'll use some of those gift cards and eat at Chipotle tomorrow night.

I was doing pretty well on my exercise plan until this week.

Yay, the Rockets won!

I have really cool kids.

I should be sleeping now.

I miss my husband.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Reflections on Super Tuesday

Just a few scattered thoughts on "Super Duper Tuesday" . . .

Thought #1: Finally, Some Sanity

I have previously shared my frustration with some conservative pundits who have claimed they would rather see anyone--even a Democrat--inhabit the White House rather than John McCain. Even before this election cycle, I had my doubts about Ann Coulter's priorities, but having listened to Rush off and on over the years thought he would maintain some common sense. Yet as I have dropped in on his program over the last few weeks I have been offended not only by his nonstop hammering of McCain (which will only be destructive in the long run) but also by his insulting of conservatives who have decided to support McCain, suggesting that we are blindly letting the mainstream media pick our candidate for us. I take this personally, as I have spent more time this year studying the candidates and issues than I ever have before. In the past I am not ashamed to admit that I have sometimes just trusted my husband to tell me for whom I should vote--he is the smartest person I know, with vast political and historical knowledge, and I trust his judgment. But this year, perhaps due to my newly discovered passion for blogging, I have done my own groundwork and in fact am responsible for helping to confirm my husband's own decision to vote for McCain. So I really resent Rush's dismissal of my intelligence and understanding. I also have little respect for his argument that a Democrat in the White House would not be much different from a Republican when it comes to national security and that thus it would be better to suffer through 4 years of Democratic policies so as to crystallize in people's minds that a conservative is better for the country on bread and butter issues and to drive the country rightward again.

This makes no sense to me! All I can make of this is that Rush is willing to sacrifice national security and the Supreme Court in order to achieve the conservative purity he so desperately wants in his president. And that is a viewpoint I cannot respect.

Thus, I several times this week wished I could reach into the television set and hug Laura Ingraham, who unlike Rush and Ann Coulter is willing to say that although John McCain may not be her preferred candidate, he is certainly preferable to either Democratic candidate and if he is the nominee she will vote for him in the fall.

Please understand that I do not think that Rush and others should be falling into line behind McCain right now just for the sake of party unity. They are out there to promote the conservative agenda, an agenda which I support. And the primary season is the time for the various elements within the party to debate their differences and make their best case. But in my opinion that means positively pointing out what you see as the strengths of your chosen candidate, not relentlessly attacking another who may very well end up as the nominee. What ever happened to Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment--"Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican"? At least not in front of non-Republicans! (Kind of like parents, we need a united front.) I know that Rush's position is that he is a conservative first and a Republican second, but as long as he continues to weigh in and try to have an impact on the Republican Party's decision he is including himself in the Republican Party and should therefore not be behaving in a way that will be destructive to the party's chances in the fall.

Thought #2 - I'm Really, Really Worried

Watching Obama's speech Tuesday night scared me to no end. I am hoping and praying for Hillary to get the Democratic nomination, not only because I think she would be easier to defeat but also because I think she has some sense. As I watched Obama I was struck by the emptiness of his rhetoric (it's beautiful to listen to seems to have no grip on reality) as well as the adoring, almost worshipful reactions of his supporters (one lady in particular, standing behind him to his left, was like a barometer whose face and body indicated--through various expressions of delight and joy, several lapses into tears, and repeated clasping and prayerful gestures of the hands--how the listener should be reacting to Obama's words). What scares me is Obama's ability to stir up a crowd through only his presence and his words, which in my opinion usually say very little of substance. I get the impression from watching the crowds that turn out for him that he could say just about anything and they would thrill to it just because it came out of his mouth. But to speak rhapsodically of "uniting people" is for me empty rhetoric. The question is, what are we uniting behind? Surrender and appeasement to those who would like to see us cease to exist? Continued indoctrination of our young people into the belief that they can do nothing for themselves and that everything good comes from the government? These are ideas behind which I cannot unite, no matter how effective the delivery.

And yet, judging from the numbers of people who are turning out to vote and rally for the other party's candidates, it appears to me that there are a lot of people ready to buy into the empty rhetoric. And that is what is frightening. The Republicans may have the right ideas, but without a candidate who can successfully unite people and winningly promote those ideas, do we have a chance to succeed? Mark Steyn on National Review Online had this chilling observation today:

"The real story of the night, when you look at their rallies and their turn-out numbers, is that the Dems have two strong candidates either of whom could lead a united party to victory. Forget the gaseous platitudes: in Dem terms, their choice on Super Duper Tuesday was deciding which candidate was Super Duper and which was merely Super. Over on the GOP side, it was a choice between Weak & Divisive or Weaker & Unacceptable. Doesn't bode well for November."

(Author's Note: I'm feeling a bit better now that it looks like the Republicans are starting to come together.)

Thought #3 (Finally a Bright Spot) - My Vote Really Does Count!

On my local ballot yesterday there was a referendum calling for $48,600,815 in 20-year building bonds of which $43,600,815 would be used to construct a new 100,000 square foot library in my town and $5 million would be used for remodeling the facility in a neighboring town (both towns are part of the same library district). The referendum failed by 43 votes, and between my husband and myself, several of our friends, and my mothers and some of her friends, I think I know where at least 10 of those "no" votes came from.

Now don't get me wrong--we love the library and use it a lot. But although I would agree the facility we utilize could use a little remodeling, I see no need for a 43 million dollar state of the art amusement park. I rarely see a crowd at our library. There is space that is currently not being used. There is room for expansion on the current campus. And considering that I know much of the money that would be raised would be spent on what I view to be unnecessary technology and programs and a collection of books that does not represent my values to the same extent that it represents those of secular humanism, this is money that I am unwilling to pay. The additional assessment on our property would amount to "only"about $70 per year, but after watching our property taxes increase by approximately 40% in the last 8 years and seeing no end in sight, my husband and I have decided to register a "no" vote on any additional increases. The causes are always noble--who doesn't want good schools and libraries?--but as I have watched the tax base in our area do nothing but expand as more and more $400,000+ houses get built and more and more businesses come in (including an Ikea just down the road from me), and as I consider other money-makers such as the red-light monitors that slap motorists with $100 fines no matter the severity of the infraction, I can't help but wonder where all the money is going. So this week my husband and I decided to stand athwart further tax increases and yelling "Stop!" and this time at least, we got heard (at least until the next referendum).

Chalk one up for the little guy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Snow Day!

Last week our area of the country had a serious snowstorm. Snow began falling Thursday afternoon and continued into the night and Friday morning. It was a bit too much even for snow-savvy Chicagoans, so most area schools ended up cancelling (or at least delaying) classes. Oh, the joy that was felt throughout Chicagoland as children of all ages climbed back into bed and wrapped quilts and blankets around them!

Homeschoolers that we are, snow is something of a non-issue for us, but the snow this day was particularly fluffy and substantial and the temperature just right for playing outside, so we took advantage of the opportunity to get some hands-on learning (studying principles of friction, incline, aerodynamics and meteorology, donchyaknow) and headed for a hill at a nearby park. Here's the principal of our school showing the youngest student how it's done:

Phew, made it!
Time for snow angels (uh, I mean art class)!

Don't you just want to pinch those cheeks?

Now it's big sister's turn (I had the hardest time getting a photo of her because I guess due to her skinniness she shot by me faster than anyone)!

Good ride!
Don't forget big brother!

And now for something a little different! (And yes, those are tennis shoes on his feet instead of boots. Long story . . . cheapskate that I am, I couldn't bring myself to buy boots for my older two children because they are growing so fast I feared they wouldn't use the boots enough to merit the expenditure. Some years here we don't get as much snow as others. So on this day Big Brother ended up wearing Dad's boots and Bis Sis wore mine. I squeezed into an old pair of Big Brother's that he has outgrown. But that still left Dad without boots. Well, as they say, "where there's a will there's a way" and as they also say, "necessity is the mother of invention." Two pairs of socks + a few yards of saran wrap = dry feet. Voila!)

And yes, even I managed to discover my inner child (I know, the sunglasses look really dorky, but let me remind you I'm a redhead--thus highly sensitive to the sun--and the glare from all that white is intense!)
It was fun to ditch the books & chores for a morning and enjoy some fresh air, exercise and family time. Thanks to Mr. Round Unvarnish'd Tale for proposing the idea! After our outing it was time for a stop at the coffeeshop for java for Mom & Dad and treats for the younger set. A grand day all around . . . and I think we may be looking at another one of these tomorrow as the forecast is calling for a fresh 6 inches!

Monday, February 4, 2008

More on McCain

It suddenly seems that everywhere I "click" I run into another column mirroring the theme of my "Four Days and Counting" post endorsing John McCain. If you are a conservative who is still undecided about your vote tomorrow, please take some time to survey the opinions below. They represent what I think is some of the soundest thinking on McCain's conservatism (or lack thereof) as well as on the qustion of electability and what for me is THE defining issue of this election year: the face of the Supreme Court that will be handing down judicial decisions over the next generation.

Jeff Jacoby, "A Conservative's Case for McCain"

Fred Barnes, "Let's Grow Up, Conservatives"

Burt Prelutzky, "Republicans Can't Afford to be Party Poopers in 2008"

The Anchoress, "Are Our Ideologies Our Idols?" and "'Faith-Based' and Hand-Wringing"

Calabresi and McGinnis, "McCain and the Supreme Court" (if you read no other of these columns, please read this one)

I know many of you are tired of talking, reading, and thinking about this election. After tomorrow I think I will be ready to let this topic go for a little while, too (although I don't know if I can go as far as the Anchoress and give up political writing for Lent!). But every day I become more convinced that the Republican Party's best hope for influencing the direction of our country over the next 25 years is John McCain. If Romney gets the nomination, I will wholeheartedly support him and cast my vote for him in November. But I don't have great hopes that he can win, especially not if Obama is the Democratic nominee. In his rhetoric and image, Romney just bears too many similarities to Obama--attractive candidate and family, superb oratorical skills, talk of "newness" and "change" and "unity" and a "fresh" direction for our country. He is competing on Obama's turf, and I just don't think he can win. If the Democratic nominee is Hillary, I think Romney has a somewhat better chance, because then he really can play the "fresh" and "new" Washington outsider card. But I don't think we'll know for several months who the Democratic nominee is going to be, which is why I think on the all-important electability question McCain is the way to go.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I'm done now.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

For the Children?

Each weekend my church's Sunday bulletin includes several paragraphs entitled "As We Gather" that highlight the theme of the day as it is drawn from the readings and the liturgical calendar. Today's "As We Gather" reads as follows:

"The Epiphany season ends with Jesus' revelation of His glory to Peter, James, and John on the mount of Transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-9]. Like them, we also see God face to face. Though the fullness of His glory will not be revealed to us until we pass through the gates of death, our hidden God reveals Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ through His Word and in the Sacraments. This is the same Jesus who revealed Himself to His disciples and journeyed into the valley of sin and death for us, so that through His death we might have life.

This Wednesday the season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. During Lent we journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, and experience the glory He reveals to us through His suffering and death for us on the cross. During this time, the Church restrains her praise in anticipation of Christ's great Passover from death into life on Easter morning. As a result, the hymn of praise disappears from the liturgy, and we refrain from singing alleluias."

One of the things that our congregation does to highlight this transition from Epiphany into Lent and to make the observance of Lent more meaningful is to "bury" the alleluias at the end of the service on Transfiguration Sunday. Last week, all of our Sunday School classes up to eighth grade made and decorated butterflies. Each class had its own motif for doing the decorating, and each child had the freedom within that motif to personalize his butterfly, but all the butterflies are alike in that the word "alleluia" is written across the front. Today as worship concluded, the children were invited to come forward and place their butterflies in a wooden chest in front of the altar. During this time the congregation sang the following hymn*:

"Alleluia, song of gladness, voice of joy that cannot die;
Alleluia is the anthem ever raised by choirs on high;
In the house of God abiding thus they sing eternally.

Alleluia cannot always be our song while here below;
Alleluia our transgressions make us for a while forgo;
For the Lententide is coming, when our penitence is renewed.

Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee, grant us, blessed Trinity,
At the last to keep Thine Easter with Thy faithful saints on high;
There to Thee forever singing alleluia joyfully. Amen!"

The alleluia butterflies will remain in the chest, and the closed chest will remain at the front of the sanctuary, until the Feast of the Resurrection, at which time the children will come to church to find the chest opened, draped in white and brimming with Easter lilies, and the alleluia butteflies displayed around the church upon specially constructed banners.

We supposedly do this for our children, to provide them with visible and concrete reinforcement of the significance of the seasons of Lent and Easter. But is it really just for the children? I can only speak for myself, but each year as I watch the burying of the alleluias and listen to and sing the words above, I am reminded yet again of the depth of my sin and the miracle of my Lord's sacrifice for that sin. It is a reminder that I need on a daily--no, make that an hourly--basis. And that is one of the wonderful things about the liturgy and ritual of the Church: week after week, it shows us--hapless, confused and forgetful children that we are--our need for a Saviour, and week after week it likewise shows us where that Saviour is to be found.

I am looking forward to seeing those butterflies on Easter morning just as much as my children are.

*For those who might be interested, this hymn was sung to the tune Picardy.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Book Meme

My friend Rebellious Pastor's Wife tagged me for a fun book meme. Here are the instructions:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

Right now I'm sitting in bed with my husband's laptop. The nearest book is to my right on his bedside table (I'm sitting on his side of the bed because my 4-year-old is currently occupying my side!) The book was one of my Christmas presents to him (my husband, not my 4-year-old) this year: Steve Martin's Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life. Here's the excerpt dictated by the above instructions (the incident Martin describes happened in 1971 when he was opening for Ann-Margret):

"One night, from my dressing room, I saw a vision in white gliding down the hall--a tall , striking woman, moving like an apparition along the backstage corridor. It turned out to be Priscilla Presley, coming to visit Ann-Margret backstage after having seen the show. When she turned the corner she revealed an even more indelible presence walking behind her. Elvis. Dressed in white. Jet-black hair. A diamond-studded buckle."

Okay, I know that's seven sentences, not three. But the last four are fragments. And I couldn't just leave you hanging!

I tag Michelle, Nikki, Hannah, Susan K, and Caitlin. It will be fun to see what interesting excerpts come out of this group!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Four Days and Counting

So tonight, with my state's primary election looming, I decided it was time to settle on a candidate. And after several hours online visiting websites and looking up policy statements and past votes and quotes on issues, I made my choice: on Tuesday I will be voting for John McCain.

If my chance to vote had come a little earlier, I would have probably gone with Fred Thompson because in spite of my reservations about his passion for the office, he was the viable candidate whose views best reflected my own. But of course Fred is out, and so is Rudy Giuliani, the other candidate to whom I was giving serious consideration. I had previously decided against both Huckabee and Paul, so that now leaves me with a choice between Romney and McCain.

I have all along been unable to enthusiastically embrace any of these Republican candidates, having doubts about all of them. Thus my indecision a mere four days before the vote. But I will admit that I have always had a "soft spot" for McCain and thus a difficult time understanding the anti-McCain passion, even hatred, that often spills from the lips of many of today's vocal conservatives.

For example, this video of Ann Coulter promising to endorse and campaign for Hillary Clinton should McCain get the nomination confirms my growing suspicion of her as a complete loose cannon and self-serving publicity hound, and I will forthwith be removing her link from my sidebar:

I just don't understand how anyone can claim that Hillary Clinton is more conservative and would be better for the country than John McCain. I also don't accept the argument that there is little difference between the two. Here are just a few issues illustrating the chasm that exists between these two frontrunners of their respective parties:

On Abortion

McCain supports overturning Roe v. Wade, voted yes on parental notification and banning partial birth abortions, and has a 0% rating from NARAL (the National Abortion Rights Action League) and a 75% rating from the NRLC (National Right to Life Committee).

Clinton supports upholding Roe v. Wade, voted no on parental notification and banning partial birth abortions, and has a 100% rating from NARAL and a 0% rating from NRLC.

On Civil Rights

McCain has a 0% rating from the ACLU, a 33% rating from the HRC and a 7% rating from the NAACP. He voted yes on banning same-sex marriage and on banning affirmative action hiring with federal funds and no on adding sexual orientation to the definition of hate crimes. He supports an amendment against flag burning and the right of formerly Confederate states to fly the Confederate flag as a symbol of their heritage.

Clinton has a 60% rating from the ACLU, an 89% rating from the HRC and a 96% rating from the NAACP (a rating, by the way, that indicates a strongly pro-affirmative action record). She voted no on banning same-sex marriage and on recommending a Constitutional ban on flag desecration. She also voted yes on adding sexual orientation to the definition of hate crimes.

On Education

McCain supports homeschooling, charter schools, and vouchers as well as unrestricted block grants to states so school districts can decide for themselves how educational funds are best used. He has voted no on a host of educational funding initiatives such as $52 million for "21st century community learning centers" as well as on national education standards. He has a 45% rating from the NEA.

Clinton supports federally funded universal preschool. She is against educational vouchers and only supports choice for those in the public education system. She has never seen an education funding bill she didn't like and has an 82% rating from the NEA.

On Family Values

McCain has an 83% rating from the Christian Coalition; Clinton's rating from the same group is 0%.

On Free Trade

McCain has a 100% rating from CATO; Clinton's rating from the same group is 17%.

On Health Care

McCain is against mandating universal health care or insurance coverage; Clinton wants to universalize health care and pay for it with a huge tax increase.

On Iraq

McCain wants to achieve victory in Iraq; Clinton says she will begin withdrawing troops within 60 days of taking office.

On Judges

McCain says he will appoint strict constructionist judges. Clinton will not.

I could go on. All of the above information and more is available at http://www.ontheissues.org/. The site itself reflects a slight leftward bias in its use of certain descriptive words and phrases, but the factual information is detailed and extensive. And based on that information I simply don't understand how it is possible to see the two of them as birds of a feather. I understand that McCain has taken some positions on issues such as global warming, campaign finance reform, tax cuts and immigration that are unpopular with conservatives. But he has an impressive gallery of supporters, he has long fought government expansion and overspending, he supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent, and his record on cutting taxes certainly beats Hillary's (72% from the NTU versus her 21%). He may not walk in lock step with the country's conservative powerhouses, but a Clinton or Obama clone he is not, and I wish people would stop making that claim. And I can't for the life of me understand how any Republican would choose to sit out this election because their first choice of candidate did not win the primary. The judges that are appointed during the next term will impact the direction of our country for a generation or more, and while we can't know for certain what to expect from any president's judicial appointments (just think back to that conservative hero Ronald Reagan), I would much rather take my chances on McCain's (or Romney's or Huckabee's or Paul's) appointees than Clinton's or Obama's.

(By the way, it is interesting to note that the site linked above describes both Romney and McCain as "populist-leaning conservatives" and places them at almost the same position on its political philosophy graph. Both Clinton and Obama, on the other hand, are "hard-core liberals." And to round out the current group, you might be interested to know that Huckabee is described as a "hard-core conservative" and Paul as a "moderate libertarian.")

So why McCain and not Romney? Even though I will admit to a certain "ick" factor with reference to his Mormonism, that is not my reason for not voting for him. McCain believes in evolution, which I view as just as false a faith as Mormonism. But voting for a president is not about finding the candidate who shares your religious views; it is about finding the candidate you believe to be most capable of leading the nation and most deserving of your trust. And with McCain I have a certain level of security that he knows what he is doing and that even though I may not agree with him on all points, I can count on him to say what he thinks and to stand up for his principles even when they are not popular. There is a record there that I can look at and feel that I know what I'm getting, whereas although Romney says a lot of the right things I have with him a much stronger sense of a politician saying and doing what is necessary to win the election, whether that means changing previously held views, promising sweeping government solutions to long-existing problems, or speaking glowingly of the sunny skies and good feelings that are going to magically manifest themselves as soon as he takes office. I respect that one can have a change of heart or mind, but in Romney's case I am not comfortable with the number of such changes he has apparently experienced in recent years (two big ones that come to mind are his views on abortion and the Department of Education). I also think that given the current state of world affairs, McCain's foreign policy experience is a huge plus, and I will frankly sleep better with him in the White House. Finally, I think McCain has a much better chance of winning in November, and I believe the importance of that simply can't be ignored, especially in a situation that to my mind offers no "dream" candidate.

If you will be voting on Super Tuesday and are undecided or simply unsure about your decision, I heartily encourage you to spend some time visiting candidates' websites, looking at specifics on issues, and visiting the site above. This is what I did tonight (at long last!), and I now feel that I can vote with some conviction and a clear conscience, if not that all-encompassing enthusiasm that has been so elusive during this very long election season.