". . . 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, April 30, 2008

Union City

In 2006 the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod published a new hymnal: the Lutheran Service Book (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO). As many of my readers are already aware, this marvelous resource includes several compositions by my very own husband, including the music for the hymn "If Christ Had Not Been Raised From Death" (LSB #486). Not too long ago I was reminded of the back-story to this composition, which if known I think only heightens one's appreciation for a wonderful wedding of words and music. So below, in my husband's own words, is that story. (I think it will eventually be included in the LSB hymnal companion, but because you are smart enough to frequent this blog, you don't have to wait!)

"In November of 2003 I was musing over about a dozen texts that had been sent to me by the Hymnody Committee for the LSB. These were texts of hymns which had been identified as desirable by the Commission on Worship for inclusion in the LSB but that needed tunes appropriate for Lutheran worship. During that time my paternal grandmother died, so I traveled to Tennessee to attend her funeral. My father's side of the family is mostly Baptist, but my grandmother had for some time been attending an Assembly of God church. Because my Baptist relatives didn't want the funeral at her church, and because her pastor didn't want to do the service at the Baptist church, they compromised by having the funeral at a funeral home with a nice chapel in Union City, Tennessee. The location made it possible for both pastors to officiate. The funeral itself went fine until my grandmother's pastor got up to speak. As I listened to his words, my heart sank because his message emphasized my grandmother's good works, assuring us that she was going to heaven because she was "TRULY A GOOD WOMAN!" As a confessional Lutheran, I trust not in works but in Christ crucified to save me from my sin, and I was dismayed to think of those in attendance who were missing the opportunity to hear this Gospel message. But then the second pastor, a Baptist and a member of the family, got up to speak. He too related several stories about my grandmother's good qualities and Christian character, but concluded by saying, "But I'm here to tell you that Etta Marie would be the first person in this room to say that she wouldn't be kickin' up her heels right now at the Throne of the Lamb if it weren't for the BLOOD OF JESUS!" He then pulled out his Bible, read from 1 Corinthians 15, and preached the Gospel. When I returned home from Tennessee, the first hymn tune I started working on for LSB was "If Christ Had Not Been Raised From Death" by Christopher Idle, the text of which, amazingly enough, was inspired by 1 Corinthians 15. So after the title I had originally chosen for the tune was found to be taken (CHRISTUS VICTOR), I could think of no better choice than UNION CITY, the place where my grandmother made her home and was laid to rest. With the LSB now in use throughout synod, this hymn is being sung in Lutheran churches throughout North America and will also be included in the WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) hymnal supplement due out later this year. But it is also sung in a little Baptist church outside of Union City, Tennessee. My Baptist relatives love the story behind the hymn--and several of them now have their own copies of LSB."

If you have not sung or heard "If Christ Had Not Been Raised From Death" now's your chance: it was sung this week for the Morning Office in Kramer Chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary. To hear it, click on the first link in the previous sentence and select Monday's broadcast. (If possible, treat yourself to the full service, but if time is of the essence you can fast forward about 10 minutes to hear the hymn.) I can't imagine a more glorious setting or inspiring sound than the voices of our seminarians at Kramer Chapel for Morning Prayer, can you?

*Hymns and tunes are two different things, with the word "hymn" referring to the poetry and the word "tune" referring to the music. Because a hymn can sometimes be sung to more than one tune and a tune may be used for more than one hymn, a distinction is made between the two, and tunes are given their own titles separate from the hymns that are sung to them. The tune is traditionally written in all capital letters to identify it as such. The text for "If Christ Had Not Been Raised From Death" was written by hymnist Christopher Idle (b. 1938) and is copyrighted by Jubilate Hymns Ltd. (1987). Mr. Idle and my husband have never met. Here is the full text of the hymn:

If Christ had not been raised from death Our faith would be in vain,
Our preaching but a waste of breath, Our sin and guilt remain.
But now the Lord is ris'n indeed; he rules in earth and heav'n:
His Gospel meets a world of need--In Christ we are forgiv'n.

If Christ still lay within the tomb Then death would be the end,
And we should face our final doom With neither guide nor friend.
But now the Savior is raised up, So when a Christian dies
We mourn, yet look to God in hope--In Christ the saints arise!

If Christ had not been truly raised His Church would live a lie;
His name should nevermore be praised, His words deserve to die.
But now our great Redeemer lives; Through Him we are restored;
His Word endures, His Church revives In Christ, our risen Lord.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

And They're Good Looking, Too!

These kids (see below) simply astonish me. Supposedly I'm their teacher. But the older they get, the more I'm merely a facilitator, doing my best to provide the things they need and then getting out of the way and watching them thrive. And thrive they do, achieving far beyond what I could have ever imagined or hoped for in passions as diverse as chess and writing and music.

The cool thing about the music is that it's something they share. And this year they have both made enormous progress in their abilities. On Saturday, that progress was on full display as both competed in the Southwest Suburban (Chicago) Piano Competition. Below, I present to you the first place winner in the Advanced-2 division and the third place winner in the Intermediate-1 division! By the way, Elephant's Child, don't you think Caitlin's medal coordinates nicely with your handiwork? (Explanation for my readers: Elephant's Child--my friend--made that lovely dress & jacket.)

As a first place winner, Trevor was invited to perform on the winner's recital the afternoon of the competition. Click below to see my first attempt at recording video on a cell phone; the piece is Rachmaninoff's Prelude Op. 23, No. 5 in g-minor, and Trevor plays it magnificently. Inexperienced as I am in using my cell phone as a movie camera, I did not get the entire performance on tape (and what I did get is a little wobbly). But the two or so minutes you will hear gives some sense of the level of skill and musical maturity that this talented young man has attained at the age of only 15. (Be sure to stick around for the rip-roaring ending!)

(Note: you may observe that I had a little trouble figuring out how to stop the recording once Trevor finished playing . . . so unless you want an extended view of my lap, feel free to end playback once he exits the stage!)

By the way, my children's piano teacher is Mr. Round Unvarnish'd Tale himself. In other words, we get one of the best music teachers in town for free! How cool is that?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Issues, Etc. Fans

If you're a fan of Issues, Etc. but haven't checked out Laymen, Etc. lately, now is the time to do so. They've been busy! So click over and see some exciting developments. And while you're at it, be sure to check in with Augsburg 1530, Save the LCMS, and Pastor Cwirla's Underground (linked at right), all of which continue to provide up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the crisis in the LCMS.


According to this article, men are more likely than women to suffer from MCI (mild cognitive impairment) resulting in, among other things, memory loss. But more and more my household seems to be the exception to that rule.

I have always been amazed at my husband's ability to remember facts. He is a walking encyclopedia of information on a diversity of topics, including history, geography, music, and politics, just to name a few. I never cease to be amazed by the breadth and depth of knowledge he can call to mind at the drop of a hat. This is not a guy you want to go up against in Trivial Pursuit.

In contrast, I have never been good at remembering factual information. I have a decent grasp of the big picture of history and know a few of the most significant names and dates and places, but there are many more that I have learned and forgotten.

And for years that has been just fine. I have always just told myself that my brain is different from my husband's--that it's okay that I don't have all that information in my head because as long as I remember the things that really matter, I can go find out the rest when I need to (especially since I have a walking encyclopedia in the house).

But a few weeks ago I forgot something rather important. It wasn't a birthday or anniversary or task that needed doing, but a past event that I knew about at one time but that somehow slipped out of my memory bank. So when the occasion arose for that event to be recalled it was nowhere to be found, and that fact threw me into something of a tailspin because of what it seemed to say not just about my head but about my heart. The event in question was something I felt I should have remembered because of its significance to a loved one, and my forgetting made me feel terrible because after all, if I really cared, I would not have forgotten.

But I did forget, and for several days that bothered me to no end. I'm a woman--a wife and a mother!--I'm not supposed to forget things like this! Facts, names, tasks, and errands are one thing (and I've had my share of forgetting all of them) . . . but a pivotal experience in the life of a loved one? That's something else. It was a shocking realization to discover that I could forget the momentous as easily as the trivial, and I went through several days of feeling like a horrible person.

But as I was stewing about all of this last week the words of a friend (who simply got caught up in my meltdown by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time) gave me some comfort. You know what she said? "Cheryl, you're getting old. You're dying a little every day, and your body is showing it. It's happening to me, too. The problem is, we've never done this before, and it's scary. But it's normal. So relax. There's nothing wrong with you."

Who would have thought that it would be such a relief to have someone remind me of my own mortality? But ironically, that is exactly what her words did. Because if I can blame this on aging it means I'm not losing my mind! And I'm not a horrible, heartless person! I'm just getting old! Hallelujah!

Now where did I put that grocery list?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

I think for the most part my readers are familiar with this movie, but if you aren't, click here. And then run, don't walk, to your neighborhood theater and see it as soon as possible. We did so last night, and in spite of it going against every fiber of my being to pay $9.50 to see a movie, I am glad that I did, and I would do so again. The movie is worth every penny. and I think it is going to need all the help it can get to stay in the theaters more than a week, because the reviews are starting to come in and as one might predict, the scientific establishment and mainstream media have already panned it.

The thesis of the movie is that our institutions of higher learning have erected a wall between what they identify as "correct" and "incorrect" thinking about science and that anyone who dares to ask questions that don't subscribe to the establishment view is turned into a scientific outcast. The genius of the movie is that all it does is follow Ben Stein as he travels around the world asking people--all kinds of people, evolutionists and non-evolutionists alike--questions. Stein himself does not promote or push an agenda--he just puts people on camera and lets them speak, and he is careful to include both sides in their own words. It is ironic, then, to see the indignant and angry outcry emanating from the scientific community--an outcry which illustrates exactly the point that the movie is trying to make--that while our universities supposedly teach the freedom to ask questions, some questions are more legitimate than others (to paraphrase George Orwell).

And at its heart, freedom--not science or religion--is what Expelled is all about. (It is also neither a Christian movie--Ben Stein is Jewish--nor a creationist one, since contrary to what some think, creation and Intelligent Design are not necessarily compatible.) It begins with images of the building of the Berlin Wall, and that Wall becomes a symbol of the intellectual wall that has been erected in academia, stifling inquiry and open discussion. As a former college English teacher, I have personally experienced this wall in witnessing firsthand the intentional and organized attempt to use college English courses as a means of indoctrinating incoming freshmen into politically correct, postmodern, secular humanist thinking. Trying to teach English--just teach English--in that environment was difficult and disheartening. But Expelled left me with some hope that it may still be possible to wake people up to what is happening on our campuses and that perhaps there are still some principled, thinking professors out there who--especially if they band together and take strength from numbers--are willing to stand up for true freedom.

The movie concludes with images of ordinary people tearing down the Berlin Wall. The analogy is clear: it's time for America to tear down its own wall of politically correct thought and speech. One little way we can do that is to send a message by going to see this movie in huge, record-breaking numbers. To quote Mr. Stein . . . "Anyone?"

By the way, here are a few good reviews of this movie to balance the preponderance of negative ones that are out there.

Comfort Food
Answers in Genesis
Christianity Today

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Win Some, Lose Some

Look at the photo below. Looks like a pretty normal bunch of boys, doesn't it? Well, in most ways I suppose they are. But in one big way they are hardly typical. Because the young men you see below are the very best high school chess players in the state of Illinois. And that third one from the left in the back row just happens to live in my house.

Several weeks ago I accompanied him to his first Denker qualifying tournament. You can read more about the Denker Tournament of Champions here; in brief, it is THE national high school chess event in the United States, held annually in conjunction with the U. S. Open. Players participate nationally by virtue of having won their state qualifying tournament, which is by invitation only. So it is a rare honor indeed to find one's name on the list of those invited to compete, but each of the young men pictured above did just that.

This year's Illinois state qualifier was held on the last weekend of March in Skokie, Illinois, within an hour's drive of our house. Even so, we made plans to stay in the hotel Saturday night to maximize sleeping time. Good thing, too, because as luck would have it Trevor came down with a cold heading into the weekend. But this was the Denker, and the show had to go on! So Saturday morning found us driving to the tournament site and Trevor laying aside intensive chess study as he relaxed by reading--what else?--a little Calvin & Hobbes. Equipped with lemon tea and ibuprofen, we pulled into the parking lot of the Skokie Holiday Inn, had a final hug and prayer, and headed off for the races.

Play was tough, games long, and the pressure very intense. There is a certain irony about the Denker arising from the brotherhood shared by these young players--having grown up together in the chess world and having played each other many times, there is a wonderful sense of familiarity here that is unmatched by any other chess event. Yet it is that same familiarity that makes this tournament so tough, for these young men know well the prodigious talent and skill they are up against. For parents, too, this is a singular event, because in our fondness for these players we would like to see them all win every one of their games! But that, of course, is an impossible outcome. So we pace and chat and wonder and speculate while in the tournament room the battle rages.

Out of five games, Trevor scored 2-1/2 points. Click here for full results. He had hoped for a stronger showing (see his comments at the end of this post), but I think his performance was remarkable, especially considering this was his first Denker appearance. He came in a mere 1-1/2 points behind first place. I daresay he will have another shot at it next year!

Just two weeks after the Denker, Trevor and I found ourselves on the road again, this time bound for Wisconsin for the United States Amateur Team Championship. In February, Trevor's team won the northern regional qualifier (you can read about that one here); now the day had come for North, South, East and West to vy for the national title. In the semi-final round, played online due to the far-flung locations of the teams, North played West and East played South. Unfortunately for the North, all of our players except Trevor lost their games, resulting in the West winning 3-1. In the East-South game, South won (also 3-1), so the final round was played between the West and the South, with the South winning (3-1 yet again). A disappointing outcome for the North, but Texas girl that I am I must say that if the North couldn't win I'm glad the South did!

I didn't get any photos from the team tournament this time, but here's one of Trevor doing some pre-game preparation in the hotel room:

In spite of a disappointing end, the team tournament was a great experience for Trevor. At the team meeting Friday night before the semi-final round, team captain Alex provided delicious Russian Napoleon cake for everyone while reviewing team strategy. I am happy to say I was included in that meeting and in spite of having nothing to contribute nevertheless got to enjoy the cake! And in consideration of the fact that Trevor had to travel from Illinois to play on this otherwise Wisconsinite team, his teammates generously covered the hotel cost for us. (Thanks, guys!)

I asked Trevor to share some reflections on both of these tournaments, and his remarks follow, with characteristic brevity. Enjoy, because although I have been trying to convince him that a chess blog is in his future, I think I still have some work to do to bring him around to my way of thinking.

"The game I was most proud of from both tournaments was the [final] one from amateur team. I didn't make any blatant mistakes in that one. I played rather badly in at least parts of all my games from Denker, but I guess my best there would have been Round 4 against Kevin [Velazquez]. It's hard to say which game was the toughest, as I carved my own grave. I didn't bring enough energy to try to capitalize on my first two opponents' opening mistakes, and in rounds 2 and 3, I blundered, and I had a completely drawn endgame versus Ilan [Meerovich--the first place finisher]. I feel that if I had been playing well I would have scored about 4 out of 5, and thus tied for first. But I couldn't help that I was sick. And I did enjoy playing in the team event. After all, I scored 6 out of 6 in all. :) I guess I didn't feel like letting my team down. Even Yury [Shulman, Trevor's teacher] couldn't find much to complain about in some of my games, which is saying something. :) Overall, I'd say Ben Marmont [from the team tournament] played the best against me out of all of my opponents."

If God Had to Answer to the EPA

This was posted by my friend The Renaissance Biologist, sent to her by a writer identified only as "Darth Kelvin." I found it hilarious and think you will, too!

In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.

Then God said, "Let there be light."

Shortly thereafter God was in receipt of a notice to show cause why he shouldn't be cited for failure to file an environmental impact statement. He was granted a temporary planning permit for the project, but was stymied by a Cease and Desist Order for the earthly part. At the hearing, God was asked why he began his earthly project in the first place.

He replied that he just liked to be creative.

Officials immediately demanded to know how the light would be made. Would it require strip mining? What about thermal pollution?

God explained that the light would come from a huge ball of fire, and provisional approval was granted with the proviso that no smoke would result. The authorities demanded the issuance of a building permit, and (to conserve energy) required that the light be left off half the time.

God agreed, saying he would call the light "Day" and the darkness "Night." Officials replied that they were only interested in protecting the environment, not in semantics.

God said, "Let the earth bring forth green herb and such as many seed." The EPA agreed, so long as only native seed was used.

Then God said, "Let waters bring forth creeping creatures having life; and the fowl that may fly over the earth." Officials pointed out this would require approval from the Department of Game coordinated with the Heavenly Wildlife Federation and the Audubongelic Society.

Everything went along smoothly until God declared that he intended to complete the project in six days. Officials informed God it would take at least 200 days to review his many waiver applications and environmental impact statements. After that there would have to be a public hearing, and then there would be a 10-12 month probationary period before . . . .

At this point, God created hell.

Grandparents' Day at Bethany Lutheran School

Evan & Grandma

Thursday, April 17, 2008


When it comes to coffee, I love dark roasts--the darker the better. My local coffeehouse of choice generally starts the day with three choices of brew--dark, light, and decaf--but as morning wears into afternoon they cut back to only two--regular & decaf. Sometimes the regular blend is dark, but sometimes it is not.

Over the weekend I was in Mequon, Wisconsin with my son for a chess tournament (details forthcoming!) and lo and behold found myself only blocks away from a Caribou franchise. So at the appointed time (usually about 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon) I left the tournament site and braved the rain and snow to get my afternoon "fix." But wouldn't you know it--the brew on tap was a light, not dark roast. Sensing my disappointment, the barrista suggested I add an espresso shot for depth or try an "Americano"--a dark brew made with espresso and hot water.

I went for the Americano and was not disappointed. It was delicious! It wasn't until my next stop into Caribou several days later that I discovered why I may have enjoyed that medium Americano as much as I did. It's made with three--count them, three--shots of espresso! A medium cup of regular coffee at Caribou boasts 190 milligrams of caffeine; I often order a "half-caf," cutting those 190 milligrams down to 95. A medium Americano, however, has 270 milligrams of caffeine. The fact that I tolerated it so well has once again started me thinking about my caffeine consumption. When my husband and I make coffee at home in the morning, we usually make "half-caf," so my two 8-ounce morning mugs are the equivalent of one medium at the coffeehouse. I usually end up having the equivalent of another 8-ounce cup sometime in the afternoon. So a typical day finds me consuming at least 270 milligrams of caffeine, but sometimes more. When I had the Americano, I was probably over the 500 mark that day, and I didn't notice any particular physiological effect (other than that it tasted really good!).

I can't quite pin down when my coffee consumption got so heavy. When I first started drinking it in college, I had maybe one cup a day. In time that grew to two. In the last 5-10 years I have started drinking coffee almost daily in the afternoon. I love my coffee break. What I don't love is how I feel if I don't have it, and that has me thinking it's time to cut back. But when one typically wakes up between 5:00 and 5:30 a.m. and doesn't go to bed until 11:00 p.m., that's easier said than done. By lunchtime I am usually already dragging, and that afternoon cup of coffee, enjoyed after my post-lunch 20-minute catnap, energizes me for the many hours still to come. And because I have to stop whatever I am doing to make the coffee, the mere act of drinking it is like a pause button for my life, forcing me to take a little time for myself and symbolically proclaiming that "I am worth it" (HT: Meredith Baxter Birney). I would really miss that afternoon treat if I had to give it up altogether, and I'm sorry, but decaf is just not the same.

So I'd be interested in hearing from my fellow coffee addicts out there: compared to yours, is my caffeine consumption light, moderate, or extreme? Do you think I need to cut down? Is caffeine addiction really all that bad? If I'm drinking too much, how much should I cut back? And more importantly, HOW do you suggest I do so without feeling totally deprived and sorry for myself (not to mention exhausted)?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Blogging Backlog

Speaking of blogging, I have so many posts currently waiting to be written that I don't know if I will ever get around to them all, but one that I promise to make a priority in the next few days is a chess round-up, because somehow two tournaments have gone by without my writing one word about either! And that just will not do! So stay tuned for upcoming details (and photos) from both.

Could It Be?

Somehow in the blur of tax preparation, chess tournament attendance, lesson planning, proofreading, piano playing, shopping, cooking, laundry, housecleaning and yes, even blogging that comprised the rapidly passing train cars of my life last week, I failed to notice a couple of neat milestones: A Round Unvarnish'd Tale has now passed the 300 mark for total number of posts and the 10,000 mark for total number of visits! And I haven't even celebrated my one-year blogging anniversary yet! For some of you high-traffic types, that may be small potatoes, but for this relatively new blogger it's pretty significant, so please bear with me while I take a moment to pat myself on the back. I have always had a passion for writing, but for years that passion lay fallow while other things took precedence. As a teenager and young adult I kept a journal, but gradually grown-up things like working and having babies and being a mommy crowded out what seemed like a rather self-serving and high-minded pursuit. Who has time to write when diapers need changing and noses need wiping? And anyway, why write if no one is going to read it?

But ever since starting this blog I have rediscovered my passion for writing, and that passion has once again become a consequential part of my life, something that I would greatly miss if I could no longer pursue it, something that I think has created for me an outlet that was sorely needed. So to those of you who take the time to stop by and read and comment, whether you do so frequently or occasionally, and to anyone who just stumbled by today for the very first time and is still reading, thank you for being there, because it is the reality of a readership, however small, that has motivated me to write again. And because I know what it is to be short on time and long on tasks, I am honored that you make time in your life to occasionally peek into mine. I only hope I can continue giving you a reason to do so!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


When I was a little girl I often had sleepovers with friends. These were friends that I had seen every day during the week at school, yet once the weekend came I still wanted more time with them, and more often than not we ended up sleeping at each other's house. As an adult looking back I have wondered if the desire to constantly have friends spend the night at my house was related to the peer dependence that is so prevalent among children who are educated institutionally. My own daughter, home schooled since first grade, occasionally has sleepovers with friends, but much more infrequently than I used to do at her age. And as a homeschooler, she doesn't see her friends nearly as much as I did when I was growing up, so when she does get to do so it is a very special thing.

Well, guess what? After years and years of no sleepovers, I have started having them again! Some of my dearest friends live too far away for us to be able to see each other as often as we might like, so when we get together, we really get together, making an entire weekend of it. I wrote about one such weekend back in January; well, after three months, we were ready for another. So last week we did it again. You can read more about it here and here. Elephant's Child and Boots on the Ground both have great write-ups, so I won't add much beyond a few photos. Here's one of me and Melody (Boots) waving at our daughters (actually I think Melody's taking a picture--maybe she will eventually post that one for you), who along with Elephant's Child braved the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier in Chicago (I rode that thing once, and once was enough):

And here are mine and Melody's charming and lovely daughters, standing on a bridge in downtown Chicago with the river in the background. I don't think that skyline can hold a candle to these two, do you?

I don't think it will be long before we do this again. Although there are people in my immediate geographic area that I also feel close to, daily life is such that the Lucy & Ethel type of coffee break just never seems to fit into the routine. In order to get this kind of fellowship, it seems necessary to set aside a designated block of time and bring everything to a screeching halt. And the connection I have with these ladies--Lutheran homeschooling moms like me (and really fun, cool and smart ones, too)--is so profound and multi-faceted that I am motivated to do exactly that.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Shet mah mouth!

Have some fun and visit The Dialectizer, where you can enter a URL of your choice and have the page immediately transformed into one of several dialects, including redneck, jive, pig Latin, Cockney, and Swedish chef (I'm not kidding!).

Here's what the third paragraph of my previous post supposedly sounds like in redneck:

"Wal, guess whut? We haf had a lot of rain this hyar week. Shet mah mouth! A LOT. An' thanks be t'God, ah reckon we may haf succeeded in cornquerin' this hyar beast once an' fo' all! Fry mah hide! Time an' agin ah have helter-skelter to look out th' back dore an' time an' agin all ah have see is grass--wet grass, yessuh--but grass fum which th' water is drainin' mighty fine, preventin' th' ankle-deep lake thet was previously th' usual result of sprin' rains."

Hmmm . . . I must admit, some of that sounds vaguely familiar to this Texas born-and-bred gal, althought I think in this case the dialectizer may have thrown in some Huckleberry Finn and Uncle Remus along with the redneck. But who cares? The goal here is fun, not accuracy. So click on over and have a little (fun, that is)!

(HT: The Renaissance Biologist)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Our Changing Military

Have you heard about this?

Married troops living together in Iraq

My gut tells me this is not a wise change in policy. But I am not a soldier, nor do I have an immediate family member serving overseas right now. I would be interested in hearing from my readers who fit into either of those categories. Do you think this is a good idea?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Smart Kid

Today at lunch my 4-year-old asked me, "Mommy, are you old?" to which I attempted to explain in the simplest possible terms that being old is relative--that I'm older than some people (like him) and younger than others (like Grandma). But as my words floundered and I realized he wasn't quite grasping the point, I finally gave up and in good rhetorical style avoided the whole question by turning it back over to him:

"What do you think, honey? Do you think I'm old?"

"No, I think you're Mommy."

So, all you mommies out there, please note well the implications of this assertion. One cannot simultaneously be old and be a mommy.

Am I raising a genius or what?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Yep, That's Me

. . . at least when it comes to the sidekick/helping out behind the scenes part. And when you consider that I am increasingly seen wearing reading glasses, I even look a little like him (although some would debate the red hair.) But as for brainy and knowledgeable . . . boy, have I got this quiz writer (and a few others) fooled!


You Are Scooter

Brainy and knowledgable, you are the perfect sidekick.

You're always willing to lend a helping hand.

In any big event or party, you're the one who keeps things going.

"15 seconds to showtime!"

Introducing the Chicago Blaze

Proud mom that I am of one of the top young chess players in the state of Illinois, I would be remiss if I didn't note the following exciting news:

"Big League Chess is coming to Illinois with the addition of the Chicago Blaze to the United States Chess League for the upcoming 2008 season. The USCL is an organization of 14 top-flight chess teams from across the country that play matches during a ten-week season that runs from late August to late October, followed by playoffs and a championship."
(quote from from a Chicago Blaze informational flyer)

Our family is especially pleased to observe that one of the members of the initial roster of players is my son's very own mentor and coach, Grandmaster Yury Shulman. So you can bet we will be closely following the doings of the Blaze in the weeks and months ahead!

You can learn more about the Chicago Blaze here.

Bethany Lutheran Podcasts Now Online

My church, Bethany Lutheran in Naperville, Illinois, is now making podcasts of its worship services available online. Bethany is a fairly large, confessional congregation in the Chicago suburbs with a strong commitment to the historic liturgy and a rich and finely-tuned music program. You are invited to listen online here (there is also a link in my sidebar under Music, Worship & Liturgy) and to share this link with anyone you know who might be interested. Right now services are uploaded for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter, but more services are expected to be added soon and ultimately on a weekly basis. We hope our podcasts will become a valuable resource for those who are not able to attend worship due to health, mobility or distance issues. We would also love to hear that others are listening just to avail themselves of another opportunity to hear God's word!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Contextualizing Hatred

In an open letter to Senator Obama (click here to read in its entirety), filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd addresses the Senator's point about the need to put his pastor Jeremiah Wright's hate-filled racial remarks into perspective.

You tell me Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s horrendous remarks will take on a different meaning if I will but contextualize them. . . . So I have done precisely that: looked inside myself to understand how hatred might need to be contextualized.

I did not have to look far. I remembered how, as a boy, I sat at the Passover Seder with my sister’s Polish-born husband and the remnants of his family. The remnants of five families to be precise, for the 12 weary souls around that table were all that remained of what had once been 300. The others – their loved ones, their sons, their daughters, their hopes and dreams – were gone, their lives consumed by zyklon-b gas, their mortal remains wisps of smoke from a B├╝chenwald chimney. . . . And I was filled with a righteous hatred. Had I, in that moment, the power to end the life of every German on earth, I might have well done so.

. . . [Some years later] I was invited to participate on a panel on “Hollywood and Stereotypes” sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. It was against my instinct, but a good friend had asked I participate and so I did. . . . My first co-panelist to speak was a young woman, a German filmmaker. She spoke of how growing up as a German she felt ashamed and humiliated whenever it was necessary to admit her lineage and how her life was about working to ease her shame. It was pure self-hatred. Senator, by some strange alchemy I heard myself explaining to her the mantle of guilt did not fall upon the shoulders of her generation. In fact, I found myself describing Germany’s honest attempt to come to terms with the horrors committed in its name. I spoke of all the things they had done from which the French, the Ukrainians, the Poles had run. How they taught in their schools the truth of their actions, how they policed their civil society and punished words or acts that had echoes of that time, how they worked tirelessly to make reparation to those survivors not stamped out by their hobnailed boots. They had sought atonement. That is not say anti-Semitism and anti-Semites did not persist in Germany. Of course they did, as they do everywhere. But they are no longer the soul or intent of the German nation, they are seen for the abhorrent aberration they truly are. Mind you, Senator, the “new” Germans did not ask for forgiveness; they knew this was not within the power of humankind and could only be given by the grace of God. They acted out their atonement from pure understanding of what had gone before.

And in that instant I realized my hatred was unjustified. The “context” was false. I was nursing the anger for my own psychic advantage and not because the current state of humanity or my own experience gave it justice. And I shed my anger.

. . . That is the teaching opportunity I hoped you would evoke: not explaining Wright’s outrage to me, but explaining his outrageousness to him. That’s how we’ll reach the postracial era: by no longer justifying ourselves with what was, instead speaking to what now exists. Not deny the past, but recognize that’s what it is: past.

You say you are devoted to Reverend Wright because he brought you to Christ. I can only imagine how powerful a relationship that forges. But, my imperfect understanding of the Christian Faith tells me you can do him an equally magnificent service: You can help bring him back to Christ. Show him redemption and salvation lie not in the satisfaction of doing little dances in a pulpit while you slander good and decent people. Teach him that great leadership and Christian love abjures the very filth – and I pick that word deliberately – that he spews on an apparently regular basis. After all, Senator, you know our government did not invent the HIV virus to kill African-Americans. You know, Senator, this is not the United States of KKK America. You know the truth of 9/11. At least you should. Both you and Michelle have benefited mightily from the new spirit that has come to America in the last two generations. I thought you were part of that. I thought you were post-racial.

But in your silence, in your justifications, in your facile instruction to contextualize, you seem just a more presentable version of those dreary self-promoters, Sharpton, Jackson, Bakewell and the rest. Surely this is not you. Please, Senator, be brave. Lead. From a position of honesty where context is our daily reality, not drawn from bitter memories, no matter how justified they once might have been. Deny Jeremiah Wright your comfort of “context”. Be Presidential. To all Americans.

Yours sincerely, and in prayer for the Grace of God,

Lionel Chetwynd

PS – I would like to discuss your stereotyping of “typical” white people whose only valid dissatisfaction is apparently the occasional irritation at the misuse of affirmative action. But enough for now. Perhaps another time.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Almost six years ago, my husband and I took a trip to the island of Grenada. (Don't know where Grenada is? Click here.)

The purpose of the trip was twofold: to celebrate our 15-year wedding anniversary and to go on a real honeymoon--the type that young people today commonly enjoy but that circumstances and finances did not allow when my husband and I first got married.

Why Grenada? Several reasons, not the least of which was the liberation of the tiny island by President Reagan in 1983. That pivotal event is credited by many historians for sounding the death knell of the Brezhnev Doctrine and signaling the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

But in addition to its historical, intellectual and symbolic appeal (especially for a Reagan conservative), Grenada also beckoned for purely aesthetic and epicurean reasons. And as my husband began in the 1990's to research Caribbean locales with an eye towards some day getting us to one, he kept returning to the idea of visiting Grenada, widely acknowledged as one of the few Caribbean islands that was still largely free of the aura of tourism. Eventually we resolved to go there some day, and although it took some years and saving up of funds, we finally made it in 2002 (this was when I was working about 3/4 of the time outside the home and pulling in a few more dollars than I do these days). Grandma came to stay with the children (only two of them--6 and 9 years old back then), and off we went for a 9-day dream vacation.

Getting there wasn't easy. First there was the plane ride (I am about as aerophobic as they come). Then there was the rude awakening upon landing in Puerto Rico that contrary to what we had been told, picture ID's were not sufficient and we needed either passports or birth certificates to enter Grenada. (That problem was solved by our staying over one night in Puerto Rico while a very good friend went to our house, found our birth certificates, and Fed Ex'ed them to us overnight.)

But finally we arrived. And were we ever glad we did. Here is La Sagesse, one of the more luxurious resorts on the island. We didn't stay here, but we did spend an afternoon enjoying a nature walk, meal, and beach time.

Here is the beach & lagoon at La Sagesse. I have never been an ocean or beach lover (that would be my husband), but remember, I grew up in Texas, and the only beaches I knew were Galveston and Corpus Christi (can you say HOT beyond words?). The beach at La Sagesse is exactly how I would have envisioned a perfect tropical experience, with white sand and blue water, just like in the travel magazines. I have rarely been anywhere more beautiful.

Grenada is well known for its waterfalls. One day we took a hike through the rainforest to an area of waterfalls known as the Seven Sisters. Even in 2002 we were the old folks in the group, which was otherwise comprised of young, physically fit college students. After we reached our destination (for which the reward was a swim in the glistening pool at the foot of the falls--can you find us in the picture below?), our tour guide (Mandoo, seated on the rock) invited us to return by another way. "Sure," we said, "you lead and we'll follow."

Famous last words. As we continued on our adventure, the hike turned into a climb--literally. Here we are, having almost made it to the top. Please note in the picture that there is no visible ground behind us, just a precipitous drop-off. We pulled ourselves up the side of this cliff by using tree roots as hand and foot holds. Did I also mention I'm acrophobic? I just kept listening to my husband's cheerleading from behind me as I looked always up and forward, never back.

Somehow we made it back to our cottage, but I was sore for three days. In spite of that, we had a once-in-a-lifetime trip and created memories that we will always treasure.

But wait a minute--did I say once in a lifetime? Make that twice, because guess what . . . we're going back! And this time we're taking the family! And how, you may be asking, can we possibly afford to do such a thing, homeschooling three children and living on a church worker's income?

Here's the answer: M-I-L-E-S. Miles, that is, earned on our American Airlines Advantage credit card. About two-and-a-half years ago we opened the card and resolved to run as much of our household spending as possible through it, charging (but paying off each month) everything from groceries to gasoline to recurring bill payments to . . . you name it, we've charged it. And a few months ago we hit the magic number--125,000 miles--enough for round-trip off season airfare for 5 people to Grenada. So we planned time off and made our reservations--come October we'll be sitting on that beach at La Sagesse. With deposits on accommodations as well as airfare already paid for, that just leaves the remainder of our cost for lodging as well as the cost of eating & recreation while we're there. Still a few more months to save for that. And hey, we'd eat whether we were there or here, right? Oh, and did I mention that Grenada is about the cheapest Caribbean island there is?

Here are my husband and I getting on the plane to come back home six years ago. I haven't flown since.

Can you tell how utterly thrilled I am to be getting on that plane? I'm trying not to think about having to do this again. Time to get out those Grenada photos and remind myself once more of what awaits after the plane lands.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Sometimes I think Wal-Mart gets a bad rap. I understand some of the concerns that people have about the store, but at the same time I think the Wal-Mart hatred can get a bit extreme. As with most things, Wal-Mart is neither all good nor all bad. Here are a few recent headlines that I think show the corporation in a decidedly positive light and also suggest that contrary to common wisdom, actions taken by Wal-Mart can actually have a desirable ripple effect on the decisions of other large retailers.

Wal-Mart to discontinue selling milk with artificial growth hormone

Wal-Mart CEO memo delegating authority after Hurricane Katrina saved countless lives