". . . 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)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Earth to Bill

I have to hand it to him--former President Clinton's speech to the DNC this week was classic Bill. As much as I disagree with his political views and detest what he did to the presidency, I have to admit that he is a talented orator and that he and Hillary provided the first glimmer of passion and excitement in what had to that point been a yawner of an event. (Did anyone see the keynote? What was that guy's name? Wilson? Winter? Oh, yes, Warner . . . .)

But also in classic Bill fashion, the lies were flowing freely. And how subtle they were, often hinging on just a single word yet propagating broad and far-reaching falsehoods. Case in point: Clinton's call for the United States to "renew" its commitment to fighting AIDS/HIV once a Democrat president inhabits the White House. Now, to "renew" something suggests that it has lapsed, no? And yet, United States AIDS/HIV funding has increased steadily ever since it began over 20 years ago. (Here's a publication that charts the history of AIDS funding in the United States.) In July President Bush signed a bill tripling U.S. funding to combat AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis worldwide. And Bill Clinton says we need to "renew" our commitment to fighting these diseases? What planet is he on?

I am reminded, as I so often seem to be this days, of Orwell's prophetic vision in his classic work 1984. In the world of the protagonist Winston Smith, history is rewritten on a daily basis, and the stupid and vacant-eyed "proles" accept the revisionism without question:

For a moment he [Winston] had shut his ears to the remoter noises and was listening to the stuff that streamed out of the telescreen. It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grams a week. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be reduced to twenty grams a week. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it. Parsons swallowed it easily, with the stupidity of an animal. The eyeless creature at the other table swallowed it fanatically, passionately, with a furious desire to track down, denounce, and vaporize anyone who should suggest that last week the ration had been thirty grams. . . . Was he, then, alone in the possession of a memory?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Palin

I was wrong.

And I couldn't be happier.

Disillusionment

I found last night's reaction to Barack Obama's acceptance speech among Fox News analysts to be highly interesting. The more liberal-leaning pundits Nina Easton and Juan Williams were less than enthusiastic, enumerating various ways in which the speech did not meet expectations. Conservative Bill Kristol, on the other hand, had high praise for the speech and what it had managed to accomplish. I can't help wondering if the difference in reaction is attributable to the more grounded and and realistic view of humanity that conservatives tend to have. Barack Obama is just a man, after all--an exceptional man, by all means, but still just a man. Neither he nor John McCain has it within his ability or power to create heaven on earth. And yet the worshipful behavior of some of Obama's followers suggests that's exactly what they expect from him. When he fails to deliver on that promise--when people start to realize he is just a man and not a god--there is bound to be some disappointment. Maybe we're finally starting to see that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

DNC Thoughts

Thought #1: Watching the video that introduced Hillary Clinton at the DNC last night and then watching her deliver her speech, I have to say that I felt her pain. I thought all along that she was the better and more formidable candidate in the Democrat primary race, as well as the one who was most deserving of the nomination. If I were a Democrat, Hillary supporter or not, I think I would have found myself shaking my head with regret that my convention had nominated the wrong person. Instead, as a Republican, I am feeling relieved that they did so.

Thought #2: I am starting to wonder what kind of incompetents Barack Obama has running his campaign. Did you see this article about the plans being made for his acceptance speech tomorrow night? Seems to me that it only feeds the perception of Obama as being just a little too smitten with himself. But hey, I guess the Hillary supporters might appreciate the ancient Greek theme: it makes it seem more likely that some kind of deus ex machina might swoop down, pluck Obama off the stage, and drop Hillary into his place.

(Memo to Hillary supporters: sorry, but it ain't gonna happen. I'm afraid you're stuck with Narcissus. And you have my deepest sympathies.)

Blogging Etiquette

Several recent events have turned my attention to the issue of blogging etiquette, several of them by highlighting what I think is proper blogging behavior and one of them demonstrating what is most definitely not.

First, in the past few weeks I have had several bloggers stop by, introduce themselves, and ask permission either to link to my blog or to share a link in my comment box that they thought I might be interested in. I think such an approach demonstrates impeccable blogging etiquette, and I appreciate the consideration shown to me. These individuals are obviously doing their best to practice good internet manners, and by doing so, they make me want to do the same.

In the meantime, someone close to me has been having a highly unpleasant experience with a blogger who seems not to understand blogging etiquette. This person, whom for the sake of anonymity I will just refer to as my friend, is a relatively new blogger whose reputation in his field resulted in immediate traffic to his site once he decided to start a blog. His blog, unlike mine, is subject-specific and focuses on his area of professional expertise.

Several days ago my friend posted an article on his blog that he did not write himself but that a colleague of his had written at his request for the express purpose of being posted on my friend's blog. In short order it became apparent that another blogger, a quite high profile one, had taken this material without permission and had posted it on his own blog without citing the source and in fact giving the impression that the material was original to his own site. He did cite the author of the material (my friend's colleague) but did not link or in any way identify where it came from. Additionally, he made several changes to the original post without indicating that he had done so, thus misrepresenting the original author's words.

Once this act was discovered, an attempt was made by my friend to have it rectified. A request was sent to the well-known blogger who "borrowed" the post asking him to identify the source. The request was ignored. Another more forceful request followed, acompanied by a threat to go public with the offending behavior if appropriate measures were not taken. This request was not ignored but was met with anger and derision.

It seems that the blogger who took someone else's property without asking and without giving credit for it was surprised that anyone would object to such behavior. He informed my friend that he does not have time for things like links and hat tips and that if he were to concern himself with tracking down all the people who borrow from him he would have time for nothing else. He personally attacked my friend for having such "pride of ownership" that he would worry about such a thing, and he expressed the view that my friend should have been flattered to have been ripped off by one such as him. He ended with the promise of a blacklisting, assuring my friend that he would never again mention my friend on his blog or promote his work in any way. And then, rather than adding a link or a hat tip to his post (because those are so very time-consuming, you know), he deleted the borrowed post from his blog.

I think the fact that he took this action, as well as the emotional and illogical way in which he responded to my friend, demonstrates that although he is not willing to admit it, deep down he knows that his behavior is not defensible. It is my hope and prayer that as he reflects on this incident he will have a change of heart, because in my opinion the world of blogging is no different from the world of writing. I understand that when someone puts something up on a public blog he is making it available to the world and should therefore not be surprised when the world reads it and even quotes it. But just as it is proper in print media to give credit to one's sources, it is proper to do so in the blogosphere as well. And in the blogosphere, it is so much easier! There is no need for a bibliography or a works cited list; instead, one just needs to name the author and give a link or a hat tip. It is an eminently simple thing to do and demonstrates that one values and appreciates the source of the material. And it builds up the blogging community and encourages good will and reciprocal behavior.

In the aftermath of my friend's unpleasant experience, I have been looking online for some guidelines in the area of blog etiquette. I have found a few helpful sources, but there is not as much out there as I would have expected. So in the future I would like to write a post that gives suggestions for good blogging behavior. If you have thoughts on that topic, I would appreciate hearing them. What should bloggers do when it comes to borrowing from, linking to, and commenting on the blogs of others? What should they not do? And what are some good general recommendations for blogging in general when it comes to writing and posting? When someone demonstrates poor blog behavior, what should one do? If you have ever had an experience such as that of my friend, how did you handle it? Does anyone know if blogs are legally protected by copyright laws? If so, what should one do if he is the victim of copyright infringement?

I look forward to hearing from you, my wise blogging friends and readers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

If the Shoe Fits . . .

I have a new addition under "Miscellaneous and Fun Links." Check it out:

Stuff White People Like

It is not only hilarious, but speaking only for myself, sometimes painfully accurate. For example #1 on the list is coffee. Yep, that would be me. A few others that hit close to home were farmers' markets (#5), wine (#24), Netflix (#39), dogs (#53), and grammar (#99).

I guess I'm not completely "white" though, because if I were, I would apparently also be a fan of Barack Obama (#8), yoga (#15), vegetarianism (#32), the Sunday New York Times (#46), soccer (#80), and free healthcare (#94). And I could do without all of those.

Here's the full list. Do you see yourself on it?

HT: Planet Augsburg

Monday, August 25, 2008

Passing On the Baton Chessboard










Disappointment

So it turns out that while all of the workshops and seminars at this summer's Institute on Preaching, Liturgy and Church Music were recorded, the plenary addresses were not. My husband gives a once-in-a-lifetime speech, and now it's gone. He has the text, of course, and maybe it will eventually be made available, but the manner in which he delivered it on July 23, 2008 and the feeling in the sanctuary of St. John's-Seward at the conclusion of his remarks can never be revisited, and that is too bad.


McCain Ads

These are not to be missed. Just in case anyone did . . .

Joe Biden on Barack Obama



Hillary Clinton on Barack Obama



Saturday, August 23, 2008

They're Worried

My husband came to bed last night with the news that Obama had finally named a running mate (after sadistically making his poor text messaging faithful wait all day while he dangled the impending announcement before them) and that it wasn't, as I was expecting, Hillary, but was instead Joe Biden. This is change? This is what we've all been waiting for? Yawn. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

The Obama people are worried, as well they should be. And there is no clearer evidence of that than the revisionist history that is already starting to be written. I have predicted for a long time that here will be those who, if McCain wins, will be able to see no other reason for it than racism, but I must say I'm surprised to see it starting so early. Puh-leeese. Can we all just be grown-ups about this? The disparity between these candidates is stark and is the result of wide-ranging differences in experience, character, philosophy, and policies. Can we acknowledge that and stop with the whining already?

So now we turn our attention to McCain's pick for VP, coming soon. Does anyone remember my prediction, made some months ago? In a week we'll see if I was right.

Sing the Faith

If you've been reading this blog for any period of time, you have heard about this new CPH resource--the Small Catechism set to music--on more than one occasion. Your are also aware that I am perhaps a somewhat biased source of information on this topic, since someone near and dear to me is the composer. For a more objective appraisal (and an excellent one) from a guest writer, check out this post on the new Liturgy Solutions blog. And thank you, Pastor Seifferlein, for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Noonan

One of my favorite columnists, Peggy Noonan, gets it right again with an analysis of why John McCain is closing in on Barack Obama in the polls. Here's one choice excerpt:

The Rick Warren debate mattered. Why? It took place at exactly the moment America was starting to pay attention. This is what it looked like by the end of the night: Mr. McCain, normal. Mr. Obama, not normal. You've seen this discussed elsewhere. Mr. McCain was direct and clear, Mr. Obama both more careful and more scattered. But on abortion in particular, Mr. McCain seemed old-time conservative, which is something we all understand, whether we like such a stance or not, and Mr. Obama seemed either radical or dodgy. He wouldn't vote to ban partial-birth abortions because we must contemplate a rigorous legal parsing of any and all possible implications regarding emanations and of the viability of Roe v. Wade?

As I watched I thought: How about "Let the baby live"? Don't parse it. Just "Let the baby live."

As to the question when human life begins, the answer to which is above Mr. Obama's pay grade, let's go on a little tear. You know why they call it birth control? Because it's meant to stop a birth from happening nine months later. We know when life begins. Everyone who ever bought a pack of condoms knows when life begins.


To put it another way, with conception something begins. What do you think it is? A car? A 1948 Buick?

And here's another:

I suspect everyone has the convention speeches wrong. Everyone expects Mr. Obama to rouse, but the speech I'd watch is Mr. McCain's.

He's the one with the real opportunity, because no one expects anything. He's never been especially good at making speeches. (The number of men who've made it to the top of the GOP who don't particularly like making speeches, both Bushes and Mr. McCain, is astonishing, and at odds with the presumed requirements of the media age. The first Bush saw speeches as show biz, part of the weary requirement of leadership, and the second's approach reflects a sense that words, though interesting, were not his friend.)

But Mr. McCain provided, in 2004, one of the most exciting and certainly the most charged moment of the Republican Convention, when he looked up at Michael Moore in the press stands and said, "Our choice wasn't between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war, it was between war and a greater threat. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. . . . And certainly not a disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace." It blew the roof off. And the smile he gave Mr. Moore was one of pure, delighted malice. When Mr. McCain comes to play, he comes to play.

You can read the whole thing here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Institute Photos

The LCMS Commission on Worship has now posted photos from last month's Institute on its website. You can see them here. Be sure you check out page seven for a couple of pics of my favorite Cantor giving his keynote address. (If you want to do a bit more looking you can also find shots of Cantor at the organ and Cantor & the Mrs. having lunch on page three, as well as several scattered choir shots with the Cantor's kids.)

Popcorn, Anyone?

We rarely go to the movies, electing instead to wait until they come out on video (oops, I mean DVD). It's just too darned expensive anymore, and there's the difficulty of finding a babysitter, not to mention the time and energy. It's so much easier to just open up the Netflix queue. I can probably count on my two hands all the movies we have seen in the theater in the last 5 years: The Passion of the Christ, the first two Narnia installments, The Nativity Story, Expelled, Wall-E . . . (family, what am I leaving out?).

But here's one I'd be willing to lay down money for. It's called An American Carol, and according to the Internet Movie Database, it's about an "anti-American filmmaker [hmmm, I wonder who that could possibly be?] . . . out to abolish the July Fourth holiday . . . [he] is visited by three ghosts who try to show him the country's good sides."

The movie stars Kevin Farley (brother of comedian Chris Farley, who died last year), Kelsey Grammer, and Trace Adkins, to name a few. It was written and directed by David Zucker, who is already paying the price for having gone off the liberal Hollywood reservation. You can read more about it here.

What Kind of Shopper Are You?

At the end of last night's broadcast of Hannity & Colmes, I heard an interesting factoid. A recent survey of voters' shopping preferences indicated that McCain voters prefer doing business at Wal-Mart, Kohl's and J C Penny, while Obama voters favor Target and Macy's. I am one voter who fits that profile completely. (Even though I wrote about shopping at Target last week, it is not my store of first choice but a place that I go when I can't find things elsewhere.) And I couldn't help noticing that McCain voters are shopping at more middle-class retailers, while Obama voters are patronizing higher-priced ones (I know Target is a discount store, but it's an upscale discount store). So much for the theory that the Republicans are the party of the rich and Democrats are the party of the common man. When it comes to shopping habits, at least, it appears to be the other way around.

Addendum: Here's a link to the Zogby poll that was referenced on Hannity & Colmes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

We Made It!

I think it says something about this past year that when my husband suggested sitting down to watch the Olympics last night after supper my reaction was one of surprise. It is not an overstatement to say that both of us are having to relearn how to relax, because the events and circumstances of the last year basically took that away from us. But we need to remember how to get it back, because last night, for the first time in a very long time my husband and I found ourselves at home together on a night that he had no class to study for, no speech to write, no Liturgy Solutions music or website content to edit (well, nothing that couldn't wait, anyway!), no catechism songs to compose, and nothing else to do that couldn't wait until today. Wow! Freedom from the tyranny of the urgent! I had forgotten what it felt like to be able to procrastinate! Welcome back, honey. It's nice to see you again. And it looks like by the grace of God we muddled through and that maybe, just maybe, things are finally going to get a little bit easier.

New School Year

For my homeschooling friends who might be interested, here's what we'll be studying at Philip Nicolai Lutheran Academy this year:

Trevor

Apologia Physics

Teaching Textbooks Pre-Calculus

Barron's SAT vocabulary and writing prep

Chess (of course)

Voice lessons

Church choir

Life Skills - bank account and checkbook management

Caitlin

Apologia General Science

Teaching Textbooks Pre-Algebra

Art and Choir at the Day School

Confirmation class at church

Both

Catechism (Daily devotions and catechism instruction are handled by my husband, the principal of our school, and he draws from a variety of sources, but I feel pretty confident we'll be using the second item listed here.)

French in Action (we're on Lesson 16 of a 52 lesson course; the entire course is equivalent to 2 years of college French, so I guess we're in second semester now!)

World history with the Teaching Company (the Fertile Crescent to the American Revolution) supplemented by Streams of Civilization and various other history books and encyclopedias lying around the house

World literature - teacher-crafted by yours truly (meaning we'll read whatever I feel like reading), but utilizing this text to provide a loose framework and source of background information

Grammar - My English teacher status notwithstanding, I have never done a lot of grammar work with my children, and although they don't write dangling modifiers I'm not sure they could tell you what one is, so this year we are going to do some formal grammar study using Jensen's Grammar.

Piano & organ (of course)

P.E. - We've decided to take the plunge and join our neighborhood fitness center. Heck, our taxes are already financing the place in part; we might as well get some use out of it.

Manners and conversation skills

Home "Ec" - I've got to get these kids cooking more!

Handwriting improvement (sorry to break it to you here, my dears, but we could use a little more work on this)


I think that about covers it! What do you think? Too ambitious? Not ambitious enough? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. (By the way, my youngest is not included here because we're farming out his education this year to our church's preschool.)

Now I just have to come up with some sort of schedule for making this all happen! Wish me luck--I'll report back when that gets done!

Thank You, Kobe

I seem to be in a video mood these days!

Did you see this one? It's Chris Collingsworth of NBC news interviewing Kobe Bryant for one of those background pieces on the Olympic athletes. In one set of questions, he offers Kobe several America-bashing opportunities. Not only does Kobe not bite, but he gives an answer to make all Americans proud, an answer that models patriotic love of country for the many young people who were undoubtedly watching.

The video is from Fox News--the actual interview excerpt starts about one minute in and is only a minute or two long. It's worth a look.



Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Home

One of my blogging friends (I can't remember who--if you're out there, raise your hand!) recently asked for song suggestions to upload onto her new iPod. Here's one I would recommend--"Last Train Home" by the Pat Metheny Group. The song itself is beautiful, but the video is even more so. This is what music videos should be, and what many of them used to be when I was in college: artists simply standing and playing their instruments as cameras record their music-making. One of my favorite things about this video is the obvious pleasure the musicians are taking in the conversation they are engaging in. One gets the feeling that they knew they were creating something unique.

If you have four minutes, please, please, please turn up your speakers, click on "full screen" and soak this one in. You won't regret it. Rarely has a piece of music so completely captured the longing we all have for a place we can call "home"--a place of utter welcome and security and rest. Even my 4-year-old "gets" it. This is not a religious song (it has no words), but when I hear it and watch the video I think of Heaven.

(I am disappointed, though, that this version of the video cuts off before the very end, leaving out the final train whistle as the train disappears in the distance.)


Monday, August 18, 2008

Moderation Mode

I've switched to moderated comments for the time being. I wish I didn't have to, because I prefer the immediate dialogue afforded by comments that are posted in real time. I also don't care for the extra work of having to approve comments for publication. But a few days ago I had a visitor whose comment accomplished nothing beyond making me uncomfortable with his presence on my site. So for now, moderation is in order.

We Shall Overcome?

Yesterday while driving through Chicagoland my children and I passed by this church:

World Overcomers Church: Where Dreams Come True (Since the second part of the name is a permanent element on both the church's building and its sign, it seems to be an actual part of the name, not just a descriptive phrase.)

When I pointed the building out to my daughter, she expressed surprise, asking, "That's a church?" Indeed, there was nothing I could see on the building's exterior (beyond the sign itself) that would identify it as a church.

I honestly don't understand what draws people to a place like this. I am a poor, miserable sinner who can hardly manage the details of my own daily life and now you want me to be a "world overcomer"? The thought makes me tired. Thanks be to God that I belong to a church that preaches Christ crucified. Because He has already done it all, conquering sin, death and the grave, there is nothing more that needs overcoming.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Presidential Candidates and Abortion: A Study in Contrast

This YouTube video juxtaposes the comments of Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain from their respective interviews with Rick Warren on August 16, 2008 (they did not debate each other but sat with him for individual question-and-answer segments, sharing the stage only briefly). Obama's response is first. I couldn't help noticing that he took a lot more time to be far less clear. I did not get to watch the entire program (I hope to in replay), but from what I have so far heard about it from others, what you see here is representative of the interviews overall, reflecting a directness and precision from McCain that suggests he is far more comfortable with his views and his ability to articulate them than is his opponent.

Just listen to the applause of the crowd when he answers the question about when a human being should be afforded the protection of law. This man is ardently pro-life and not afraid to say so.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

New Sign

My church recently hung this banner on the road next to our campus. I think it's really cool. No trendy sermon series or practical living tips here! Just Christ and His sacrificial love, brought to you through the liturgy, offering new life through the forgiveness of sins.

I'm not sure who is responsible for the sign, but whoever you are, nicely done!


Look What I Found!

It's for my daughter and it looks adorable on her. I stumbled on it yesterday in the junior department at Target. My photo doesn't really do it justice. Here's a better one:


If you are a mother of a pre-teen or teenage girl, you know that finding modest, pretty, feminine clothing for your daughter is not easy these days. My daughter is only 12 but is tall for her age and is already making the transition from girls' to junior sizes. It is frustrating trying to shop for her in the current fashion climate, because these days the young women's dress racks seem littered with things like this . . .


. . . and this.

They are either too revealing or downright ugly. So I was pleasantly surprised yesterday to discover what I would describe as simply a pretty, classic dress. It is from the Isaac Mizrahi line and only cost $34.99.

Thank you, Target!



Friday, August 15, 2008

Parents in Name Only

This is sad.

HT: Barbara Frank

A Masterpiece in Progress

This is my daughter's book Riversong, completed earlier this year. It is still in the editing phase (her editor is a little slow!) but once that is completed she hopes to self-publish on Lulu. The cover art and binding shown here were provided by my daughter's friend. Didn't she do an amazing job?



Here's a peek at the first page. The books is 18 chapters long, not counting prologue and epilogue. I wrote stories when I was younger, but never anything like this. I am awed by anyone who can write fiction at all, much less something of this scope. Not only am I amazed by the ability to even conceive of things like plot and character, but I am completey impressed by the commitment to seeing that conception through from start to finish. This work took much in the way of time, effort and dedication.

Hats off to you, sweetheart. I can't wait to see your creation bound and printed. I better get busy finishing my part of the process!



Thursday, August 14, 2008

Who's It All About?

We had a guest pastor Sunday--Pastor Josh Genig from St. John's in Wheaton, Illinois. Wow, what a blessing he was to our worship. Beautiful chanting, great liturgical reverence, and an excellent sermon (except for being too short). He preached on the Gospel, Matthew 14:22-33, which I will quote in part below:

"And Peter answered him, 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.' He said, 'Come.' So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, 'Lord, save me.' Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?' And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the son of God.'" (Matthew 14:28-32)

Pastor Genig noted how this passage has been looked upon both as an illustration of Peter's great faith--after all, he got out of the boat and walked across the water!--and of his lack of faith, since when he saw the wind he began to doubt and thus to sink. Most of us hearing it are likely to picture ourselves in Peter's role and wonder, "How strong is my faith?" and to take away the message that if only I have enough faith I will be able to walk on the water (metaphorically speaking) like Peter. But Pastor Genig made the point that that is simply the wrong question, because this passage is not about us at all, nor about Peter, but instead it's ALL ABOUT JESUS, who comes to us in our faithlessness and our sin and reaches down His hand and pulls us up out of the water into the safety of His forgiveness. Our faith is not of ourselves, but of Him, and our salvation comes only through His action, not our own. So as we leave worship on Sunday having been fed by Word and Sacrament, only to stumble before we even get out of the building, we like Peter have only to look to Jesus, asking, "Lord, save me" and to know without a doubt that He will, that in fact He already has, through His own death and resurrection.

Aren't you glad it's not about you?

VBS

No, this is not a post about Vacation Bible School, but about Visible Bra Straps. One the one hand they seem to be the fashion statement of the moment for females of all ages. In fact, you can now just buy the straps, all by themselves. Yet a web search can pull up plenty of people who, like me, don't get it.

I did some more thinking about this yesterday when one of my piano students--a teenage girl--showed up for her lesson displaying no less than three different bra straps under her tank top. I found myself thinking that she must be very uncomfortable wearing three bras under there! But having done a little more research, I now wonder if she was not wearing three bras at all but simply attaching extra straps for the sake of adornment. By the way, the student in question is a lovely and beautiful young lady with a great fashion sense, and seeing her sport this style makes me wonder if I am just being a fuddy-duddy. Because she is just one of a number of young ladies I know being raised in Christian homes with wholesome values and standards of behavior who nevertheless make this same fashion choice.

I was led to think about this some more yesterday when another of my piano students, a much younger one (age 7), showed up wearing a tank top with adjustable spaghetti straps. Looking at her shirt, it struck me that due to the adjustable feature, her straps looked a lot like bra straps. So then it occurred to me that maybe what my older student was wearing under her tank top was not multiple bras but multiple shirts with bra-like straps.

Musing over all this, then, I found myself wondering if my problem with the VBS style is not so much that it is revealing--my student was wearing a tank top, after all--but that the straps look like bra straps, which in my mind are not supposed to be shown. But what is it that makes them look like bra straps? Is it just that they have that adjustable slider feature? Well, what's so wrong with that? Would I have the same reaction if someone wore a tank top with a spaghetti-strap t-shirt (and no adjustable feature) underneath it? If my 7-year-old student's shirt has the adjustable feature, it is clearly not something that is limited only to bra strap use, right? And what's wrong with it anyway? Isn't it there just to assure a good fit, whether it's on a bra or a shirt?

I'm probably overthinking this. But as I look at the females out there who wear this style, it does strike me that it is possible to wear it in an aesthetically pleasing way and possible to wear it in a trashy way, and my piano student was definitely modeling the former. It's not a style I would choose for myself, nor would I allow my daughter to wear it (I am quite sure she wouldn't want to anyway). But maybe those of us who don't care for the style should simply count our blessings: after all, an easy alternative to VBS would be no B at all!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

U. S. Open

Last week, August 2-10, the U. S. Open Chess Championship was held in Dallas, Texas. Because of the length of the tournament and the fact that it changes location year to year, this is not a tournament that my son always gets to compete in. Nine days of hotel and restaurant bills? I think not. And that doesn't even take into account the cost of getting there. But as it happens, I have a sister who lives in McKinney, Texas, a north suburb of Dallas, and her house is less than a half hour from where this tournament took place. So last Sunday, Trevor and his dad loaded up the car, and two days after returning from a family road trip to Nebraska they set out again, this time for Texas. (Thanks, Sis, for being such a willing and gracious hostess!)

The traditional schedule for this tournament is one round per day for 9 days. But because not everyone can take that much time out of life to play in a chess tournament, several shorter schedules are offered. My son played on the 6-day schedule, beginning on Tuesday and playing two games for the first three days and finishing out with one game each of the last three days. Because these games can go as long as 6 hours, that means potentially sitting at a chess board for 12 hours those first three days. Can you imagine thinking--hard--for 6 hours, and then having less than an hour to grab a meal and start the whole process again?

I can't (heck, I can hardly think at all anymore, much less for 12 hours). But my son can. In fact, he actually enjoys it! And he especially enjoys it when he gets an outcome like he did this weekend. Of 9 games played, he won 7, defeating Masters rated at least 150 points higher than him in four of them. As a result of this performance, his rating has rocketed from 2052 to 2118, putting him only 82 points shy of reaching the title of Master himself and placing him unofficially at number 11 in the USCF list of highest-rated 15-year-olds in the country. He also played several FIDE (internationally) rated players in this tournament, moving him a little closer to achieving his own FIDE rating.

Click here to see the final standings in the tournament and here to see the list of prizewinners. Prizes are awarded both for the best performances overall as well as the best performances in each rating class. Trevor did well enough that he could have received an overall prize, but it was more financially rewarding for him to split the first place Expert prize than the fifth place Open prize, so that's why his position on the prize winners list is a little lower than on the standings list. (Sorry if I am getting a little too technical for some of you, but a few of my readers may actually be interested in these details!)

When Trevor called last Sunday night to tell me he had won his last round, I must admit I was surprised. As well as I know my son and the talent and hard study that have brought him to this point, I did not expect this. How I wanted to throw my arms around him and squeeze him tight! But that's kind of hard to do when you're separated by almost 1000 miles. Sunday night after the tournament ended Trevor and his dad drove from Dallas to Houston to visit my husband's parents, extending the distance between us to over 1100 miles. So I will have to wait a little longer for that hug. I think that when I do finally get one both Trevor and his dad are going to have a hard time making me let go.

It is worth noting that Trevor's coach Yury Shulman won first place two years ago in the 2006 U. S. Open in Chicago, finishing with 8 out of 9 points. At the same tournament Trevor finished with 5-1/2 out of 9 points--not strong enough to win a prize. He's come a long way in two years, hasn't he? And that is due in no small part to Yury's excellent teaching and always positive approach to motivating his students. But I fear what this means is that the day is coming when Trevor may very well have to face off against his teacher. To Trevor and Yury I say, I guess that's what you both get for being so darned good at what you do!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Play Date

Some of my Lutheran homeschooling friends came over to play this weekend. We had a great time. Friday afternoon I picked up Lora at the train and we came home to a supper of spaghetti with pesto sauce, tabouli salad, and cantaloupe. The basil for the pesto and parsley & tomatoes for the tabouli salad were grown in my very own garden!


Later the rest of our group arrived: Melody & her daughter Mary, Barb K., and Jenny J. It was my first time to meet Barb! What a treat--she was just like I imagined her to be. We stayed up well past everyone's usual bedtime, enjoying brilliant and witty conversation (these are some of the smartest women I know) as well as chocolate and a little Riesling.

Saturday included knitting,

more knitting,

yet more knitting,

a trip to the Farmer's Market (or is that Farmers' Market?),



browsing in the bookstore,


Mongolian barbecue (the big blur in the middle is the cook's knives flying through the air),

and trips to Hobby Lobby and Michael's along with some Monty Python DVD's and yes, more talking. We also did some singing around the piano. It wouldn't be a Lutheran gathering without a little hymn singing, right?

It also wouldn't be a Lutheran gathering without everyone bringing food. And what great food it was: Jenny had the same idea as I did and brought some of her homemade pesto as well, along with homemade preserves and Greek salad; Barb contributed homemade hummus; and Melody brought BBQ brisket and homemade bread-and-butter pickles. We gave Lora a pass on bringing food since she had to ride the train! (She earned her "keep" by being the resident knitting coach.)

Sunday morning was Southwestern style crock pot eggs (with farm fresh eggs from Melody's hens and peppers from my garden) followed by church, lunch back at home, a little more knitting, and finally, goodbyes. Here's a photo of our whole group taken by our waitress on Saturday. Pictured from left to right are Lora, Barb, Cheryl, Evan, Mary, Caitlin, Melody and Jenny. My guess is that in the very near future some of those pictured here will be posting their own write-ups and photos.
You know, our pet name for this gathering is "Mamapalooza" because it is a gathering of "Mamas." But we could have called it a "Blogapalooza" since everyone pictured below has his or her own blog (including the four-year-old, although he does get a little help from his mom)!

It was a weekend to remember, and I can't wait for the next one!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Yury

This is my son's chess teacher, the reigning U. S. Champion, featured on the cover of the August issue of Chess Life magazine. He's every bit as charming in person as the photos make him appear. And he's a dream of a teacher: demanding but kind, empathetic, enthusiastic about his craft and about sharing it with others, constantly supportive, and willing to go beyond mere teaching to being a friend and mentor. And as you can see, he knows his stuff!



Quote of the Day

"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. "

- C.S. Lewis, "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment"



Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Happiness is . . .

. . . listening to the Wicked soundtrack over and over again with your 12-almost-13-year-old daughter--the one that same daughter got you for your birthday-- and remembering . . .

. . . dusting the house together while you listen.

. . . going back and replaying your favorite tracks again.

. . . telling your daughter how the Act I finale of Wicked ("Defying Gravity"), an anthem of independence sung by Elphabah the misfit, reminds you of Fanny Brice's similar declaration ("Don't Rain On My Parade") at the end of Act I in Funny Girl.

. . . listening together to Barbra Streisand sing "Don't Rain On My Parade" on my original Broadway cast album recording.

. . . discovering a musical allusion to "Don't Rain On My Parade" in Wicked's "One Short Day to the Emerald City" (it was my daughter who figured out that the allusion occurs when Glinda mentions seeing a show--"Wizomania"--upon their arrival in the city).

. . . deciding that next week we will watch some movies together: one that my daughter wants me to see (the first Harry Potter) and one that I want her to see (Funny Girl).

. . . squishing up next to one another so that we can both read the lyrics in the CD liner notes, and discovering that when Elphaba and Glinda sing simultaneously at the end of "For Good" the normally mezzo Elphaba sings the high part while soprano Glinda sings the low part (reflecting the lyrics "because I knew you, I have been changed for good").

. . . watching a YouTube video of scenes from Harry Potter movies effectively and movingly set to the Wicked soundtrack!



Parents, myself included, often look at the children growing up before their eyes and mourn the disappearance of the various stages of that growth--infancy, toddlerhood, the preschool years--but at times like this I rejoice in the stunning people my children are becoming as they journey towards adulthood and the many yet to be revealed joys and blessings those years are going to bring. My daughter will always be my daughter and I will always be her mother, but how amazing it is to experience her more and more each day as a friend.

P.S. to Wicked fans: here are a couple of bits of trivia for you. Did you know that "Elphaba" (the name of the wicked witch in the story) was created by author Gregory Maguire by morphing the initials F. L. B. (for Frank L. Baum) into a name? And did you also know that Idina Menzell, the originator of the role of Elphaba on Broadway, played Patrick Dempsey's girlfriend in Enchanted? (She said she didn't mind that it was a minor role because she was thrilled to be hired for only her acting and not her singing talent.)

Double Standard

While the mainstream press was careful to keep Americans informed about Barack Obama's recent European trip, they somehow can't find time to tell us about President Bush's arrival in South Korea to a massive pro-Bush and pro-America demonstration. You can read more about it (and see pictures and video) at Gateway Pundit.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Institute Photo Diary

As probably most of my readers know, our family recently attended the third triennial LCMS Institute on Liturgy, Preaching and Church Music. As a workshop presenter, plenary speaker, conference musician and vendor, my husband wore multiple hats, but the rest of the family contributed as well, from singing in a choir (my two oldest children) to playing piano for worship (myself) to serving as a model for a workshop (my youngest). Below are a few of the photos I managed to take during the conference that were decent enough to post; it seems more of my pics than usual were blurred (and several of the ones seen below are slightly so). Hmmm, guess I need to cut down on the coffee drinking.

Here's the totally awesome Kantor Jan Muth of Memorial Lutheran (Houston) preparing her young models for a workshop on teaching music to children. The little king in the middle is mine--in his hand is a baton, um, I mean scepter. You can see how much he is enjoying the role--believe me, getting that crown off his head wasn't easy.


Here's the real deal, with workshop attendees watching. Yay--another chance to wear that crown!

Phil practicing organ in the balcony of St. John's-Seward. I think this was at about 10:00 at night. We also had one 7:00 a.m. rehearsal. Ouch! It was tricky getting all those musicians adequate rehearsal time.

Some very cute members of the Select Children's Choir in the Concordia bookstore (I'm particularly fond of the young lady in the middle):

Composer Phil Magness and Deaconess Pam Nielsen giving one of two presentations on the Sing the Faith catechism songs:



The Sing the Faith songbook itself on sale at the CPH booth!


Evan (the regal one) manning the table for Liturgy Solutions and Brothers of John the Steadfast:


And finally . . . Loopers! From left to right are Cheryl, Evan, Bethany L., Andrea W., Felice, and Holly G. (I also got to see Charity, but neglected to get a photo.) By the way, can you tell that Bethany and Holly are sisters?


What a wonderful week it was. There are so many stories I could share, and in time I hope to post a few of them, but for now I hope you have enjoyed this pictorial retrospective on a week I will long remember!



Silly Signs

Pics from our recent road trip, shot somewhere on the way from Illinois to Nebraska and back again (location details are withheld to preserve some dignity for the offenders).

It would appear that "fun" is all a matter of one's perspective:


What else would it be for, do you think?

I don't know whether to submit this one to the Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks or Apostrophe Abuse:




Friday, August 1, 2008

Unplugged

What do you do when you find yourself without television, radio, internet, telephone (both land-based and cellular) or even a few family board games for five days?

You read. A lot. Last Friday my children and I landed in just this situation as we settled in for a stay at Camp Luther in Schuyler, Nebraska. During the same time my husband was lodging at the decidedly more luxurious Benedictine Monastery in the same town, serving as musician for a Lutheran pastors' retreat. When we realized that his work at the retreat would come right on the heels of our trip to Seward, Nebraska for our church body's national worship conference and that it would be necessary for us to stay in Nebraska with him unless we wanted to fly home or take separate cars, I went looking for cheap accommodations. I stumbled on Camp Luther by doing a web search for camping in Schuyler (thinking it would be cheaper for us to camp than stay in a hotel). And boy, did I hit pay dirt. When I contacted the director of of the camp, we were offered a place to stay on a donation-only basis--in other words, whatever we wanted to pay. Of course, we leaped at the offer, and the accommodations far exceeded my hopes. We had a kitchen, two bathrooms (the cabin we stayed in used to be a duplex but has been converted to one unit), a living area, and a bedroom with a double bed and a set of bunk beds. If we had chosen, we could have eaten in the camp cafeteria, but with the available kitchen facilities I just ended up cooking all week.

My husband stayed with us the first night, and after we had checked in and unpacked the car he invited me to come outside with him and enjoy the night. We stood there listening to the night, hearing nothing but the bugs--no cars passing by, not even in the distance; no voices; no radios blaring; not even any dogs barking. And no lights to speak of either, just the blackness and the stars. That utter quiet and dark is something I remember experiencing during the several years I lived out in the country in my childhood but as a Chicago burb dweller it is now unknown to me. I wish I could bottle some of that and take it home.

We were in such a remote location--several miles of dirt road separating us from the nearest highway and nothing but farms and cornfields in every direction--that as mentioned we found ourselves completely unplugged from all our electronic tethers. And because I did not have room to pack games and recreational equipment, we didn't have a lot to do except enjoy the camp facilities and our books. So other than eating and sleeping and hiking (there was a small lake with a sand beach but the water did not invite these city slickers to swim in it), we buried our noses in books. Here is some of what I read over our five days at Camp Luther:

The last 10 or so chapters of Hakim's History of US, Book 9 (catching up with my kids)
Stories of the Second World War by Paul Dowsell (again, catching up with my kids)
The first few chapters of How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer
Several issues of National Review and World magazines
Reading the Psalms with Luther (in part)
About half of The Secret Life of Bees (still working on that one--it is a stunningly good read so far)
And . . . drum roll, please . . . I finally read my first Harry Potter book! So now I can talk knowingly about all kinds of things like invisibility cloaks and Muggles and Quidditch and You-Know-Who! (But I've only read the first one, so don't spill any plot beans because at this rate--one per summer--I'll not be finishing the series until my 50th birthday.)

I will admit that unplugging was a bit of a shock to the system, because all of us are used to internet access 24/7. But after about a day of withdrawal, I was glad for the deprivation, knowing that without it I probably would have not spent as much time in my books. I used to be an avid reader, but now find myself going many months without reading anything (except blogs) for pure pleasure. Considering all the great books out there, I find that quite dismaying. So it was a treat to rediscover my passion for reading this past week. I hope come fall I can manage to set aside a little time each day to continue pursuing it.

It was a great five days, clouded only by a summer cold that started with my youngest and has now made its way through the whole family, hitting me much harder than anyone else (why is that?--does the fact that I got way sicker than the others say something about my general degree of healthiness?). Yesterday we left Schuyler and drove to St. Peter, Minnesota (what a gorgeous town) to stop in at the worship conference being held there by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and to make an early college visit to Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, which we are considering for my 15-year-old son in a few years. (Glenda, lack of time and colds ruled out a stop by your place this time--please forgive me, but I would not have wanted to make your family sick!) Today we're driving home. I can't wait to sleep in my own bed tonight! Tomorrow it's a marathon of laundry as my son and husband prepare to leave for another road trip on Sunday--this time it's to the U.S. Open (chess) in Dallas, Texas followed by a stopoff to see my husband's parents in Houston.

That's the report from the last few weeks. Stay tuned for more road stories!