". . . little shall I grace my cause

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

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

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

Friday, January 30, 2009

Father-in-Law Update

Surgery did not take place yesterday after all. We are still waiting for more information. Thank you for the prayers!

Thelma and Louise We Are Not

A few hours from now I'll be heading out on a road trip with a few girl friends, leaving my older son, younger son, and daughter (plus one) in the care of the Cantor. I'm not sure who is going to be happier as we drive away--me and the ladies watching laundry and dishes fade from view in the rearview mirror or the kids with no moms to bark out household tasks for the next two days.

So where do sophisticated and erudite Lutheran homeschooling moms such as ourselves go to let off a little steam?

To the seminary, of course!

It was Elephant's Child's idea. She was tired of hearing me whine ad nauseum, "I've never been to Fort Wayne, I've never been to Fort Wayne, I've never been to Fort Wayne . . . . " and finally said "Enough already! Let's just go!" (She is clearly just the kind of carpe diem, grab the bull by the horns sort of friend my old fuddy-duddy self needs.

So tonight Boots on the Ground and I will drive down to the jungle to meet up with Mrs. Child, whence we'll depart early in the morning for The Fort. Along the way we'll meet up for coffee with Big Doofus and Miss Sniz. And while in Indiana we'll get to see her and her and her and who knows who else? Because the Fort is of course crawling with Lutherans.

In addition to a tour of the seminary, there will be coffee and conversation and food and knitting (a spectator sport for me) and a trip to the bookstore. And oh yes, chocolate, and perhaps a little vino, and on Sunday morning, worship.

This is all to say I doubt you'll hear from me until Monday. Have a great weekend!

A Round Unvarnish'd Wordle

Some of my friends have been playing with Wordles lately. A Wordle, also known as a "word cloud," is a graphic representation of a text that reflects the frequency of words used in that text. It's an interesting visual means of identifying what subjects are most important to the writer of the text.

For fun, I created a Wordle for my blog. I first tried entering my blog's URL, but the result was generated from only the most recent post. So then I manually copied and pasted all of the posts from the month of January as well as the labels in my sidebar (it didn't take as long as it sounds). Here is the Wordle that was created. You can increase the size by clicking on it.

Wordle: Untitled

I'd have to say this is a pretty accurate reflection of the things that I tend to focus on both in real life and on my blog. I just wish "Jesus" were bigger than "Obama"--and here I thought I was focusing less on politics these days.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Are They Afraid Of?

Remember this commercial?

The people behind it had hoped to buy time to air it during the Super Bowl Sunday.

NBC said no.

Read the full story here.

HT: The Corner at National Review

Prayer Request

My father-in-law will be having spine decompression surgery today. I would appreciate your prayers for a successful surgery and a smooth recovery and rehabiliation.

Please also pray for my sister-in-law and mother-in-law. My mil is virtually bedridden with multiple health problems. Last night she had her own visit to the emergency room due to her feeding tube not functioning properly. My sister-in-law is currently staying with and caring for her.

We are not sure what the next few weeks and months have in store, but it is clear that my in-laws will not be able to continue as they have. My father-in-law will need time to recover, and once he does I am not sure he will be up to the demands of caring for his wife as he has been doing for a number of years now. We know they are going to need to make changes to their lifestyle, but right now we aren't sure exactly what those changes will be. Please pray not only for healing but for wisdom for both them and their children as they make some decisions about the future.

Thank you for your prayers!

Note to Martin Loopers

For my Lutheran homeschooling friends who may not be aware: the reason we have not been able to communicate through the list for the last two days is that Cat 41 is down (without electricity) due to the ice storm. So it's Mother Nature's fault!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Barry, Honey, Can We Talk?"

A mom pleads with President "Sweetie" Obama to protect her children from terrorists.

Scarred for Life

As a parent I swing between worrying that 1) my myriad mistakes, personal shortcomings, and sheer stupidity (okay, okay, my own sinful flesh!) are permanently harming my children and that 2) I'm not doing too bad and I shouldn't worry so much because children are, after all, incredibly resilient and flexible and all will be well as long as they are fed and clothed and above all know that Jesus (and I) love them.

Today my pendulum is swinging more in the first direction. Why, you ask?

(You do ask, don't you?)

Well, a few nights ago I brought home animal crackers from the grocery store. Although they were purchased to serve as the preschool snack today, there was sufficient quantity that I told Evan he could go ahead and have some. So we were sitting at the table enjoying animal crackers (I don't usually buy them, so this was a treat) when I jokingly bit the head off a cat (or sheep or giraffe--all I know is that it was some four-legged thing) and started crying, "Ouch, ouch, don't eat me!" I thought I was being funny.

Instead, my child was traumatized. He yelled, "Don't say that! Don't ever say that!" and refused to eat any more animal crackers. The next morning he informed me that he did not want to take animal crackers to preschool, nor did he want animal crackers in his house ever again. Later in the day he told me that he had a dream that we were in Grenada and he was swimming in the ocean when a big whale came up and ate him. He told me, "You made me have that dream, Mommy."

What have I done to this child? In retrospect I realize that we went through a similar issue with the chocolate Santas at Christmas. He was not in the least amused when at that time I asked which part of Santa I should bite into first. The poor child must think I'm some sort of bloodthirsty monster.

I guess I better make sure he never sees this murderous piece of cinematic horror:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


This is our dining room table. We purchased it used about 15 years ago from a couple in Peoria. It is originally from Cohen's Furniture.

Here's the matching china cabinet.

Both have served us well and are still in decent condition (not counting the acquisition of various scratches and signs of past art projects on the table, but that's to be expected).

But the chairs . . . oh, the chairs. They are dying--have been for a while. Several, like the one below, are missing their backs. If you look at the chair's frame, you may be able to notice some separation between the back and the seat. At the moment the two parts of the chair have been pushed together to minimize the space, but anyone who leans against the back of the chair is playing with fire, as it will start to give way with too much force. We have tried gluing, but the repairs have not held.

And then there's the upholstery. Here's the worst example.

If the chairs themselves were not in such poor condition, we might consider reupholstering the seats. But I don't want to invest the time and/or money on chairs that are falling apart. We have considered hiring a professional to do the repairs, but since we only paid $500 for the whole set (including china cabinet), we really don't want to put a lot of money into repairs.

There is no money right now for a new dining room set. I have considered just buying metal folding chairs as a temporary solution (I'm not worried about beauty, since this table is used for school much more than for eating), but they sit a bit lower than is comfortable.

Any brainstorms out there? Anyone know where we can get some cheap but decent chairs to tide us over? Better yet, does anyone have any chairs they want to get off their hands for cheap (or free)? :-)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Beethoven, Piano Concerto in C, Op. 15, First Movement

Recorded at the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra Young Artists Competition, Buik Recital Hall, Elmhurst College, January 24, 2009

The video runs for 12-1/2 minutes. If you would like to listen but don't have time for all of it, fast forward to 8:55 for the cadenza.

(For those who might be wondering, we don't have a result yet. But if I were one of those judges, this thing would have been a wrap at about 11:30 a.m. Of course, I'm rather fond of the performer--and his accompanist.)

Visiting Lansing

Last weekend I set foot in Michigan for the first time ever. The occasion was (what else?) a chess tournament in which my son was participating. (I think I have done more traveling in the last 8 years of taking him to chess tournaments than I did in the 35 years of my life B. C.--Before Chess.)

The tournament was held downtown at the Radisson, just a couple of blocks from the State Capitol.

While Trevor played chess, I enjoyed some down time (definitely one of the benefits of being a "chess mom"). Not only that, but I met up with some kindred spirits! I subscribe to an email list for Lutheran homeschoolers (a. k. a. "Loopers"). It's a great group, and we are always looking for opportunites to meet in person. When I discovered my chess chauffering responsibilities were going to be taking me to Michigan, I put out an ALB ("all Looper bulletin"). I was thrilled to get three takers from among the Michigan Loopers! We met at the hotel, ventured out for lunch, and then returned for visiting and chocolate in my hotel room. It was wonderful to make three new friends and share homeschooling & mothering stories.

Brain-addled mommy types that we are, we failed to draft my son to take a picture of our whole group while he was between rounds. So we had to do two rounds of photography.

Pictured are Becky S., you-know-who, and Becky D. Oh yeah, and if you look very closely, you might be able to tell that there's a little S.-on-the-way snuggling in his mommy's tummy.

Now you see me, now you don't! Jeannette M. has taken the middle spot.

It was such a pleasure to meet these ladies. I'm already looking for another chess tournament so Trevor and I can make a return visit.

The weekend did have a few down sides, however. It was interesting that I didn't find the weather on the drive there to be too terrible, yet there were multiple cars traveling at slower-than-the-limit speeds while flashing their warning lights. It was not snowing at the time, and the road conditions were not bad, so I was puzzled as to why they were going so slowly. On the other hand, on our drive home through blinding lake effect snow (with me driving 25-30 mph much of the time) we were routinely passed by cars going much faster. And I'm afraid some of those cars may have come to regret their carelessness, as we counted at least 10 cars off the road on our drive home.

Am I missing something here? Do you Michiganers (Michiganites? Michiganians?) have different snow-driving protocols than we do in Illinois?

Trevor and I also had the truly scary experience of almost getting run over by a snow plow. We had just stepped out of Jimmy John's (it was the one meal for which we had sufficient time between his rounds to actually venture outside the hotel, and it being Sunday, all the more interesting and distinctive establishments were closed). As we stood just steps outside the entrance, a sidewalk snowplow in back-up mode almost ran us down. We had to literally run to clear his path. I don't think he ever saw us.

Then there was that Saturday morning round. It was the first game of the tournament, and even though Trevor and I had lost an hour due to the time change, we were there early and Trevor was ready to play. I guess I have turned into more of a Chicagoan than I realized, because it annoyed me to no end to have to wait not 15 minutes, not 30 minutes, not 45 minutes, but almost an hour for the tournament to start. And I wasn't even the one competing! Apparently the tournament director decided to start late due to the weather. My feeling was "Come on! Don't you Michigan types drive in this stuff all the time, just like we do in Chicago? Let's get this show on the road!"

Minor complaints about the hotel: I think they need some high powered humidifiers. My hair was as flat as a pancake. (Or a board. Take your pick of tired metaphors.) And I got so very tired of being shocked every time I went to press an elevator button, open a door, turn on a light, etc. I was hoping for a relaxing weekend, not an electrifying one!

Also, the hotel needs to work on its Internet filtering. I was blocked from several online sites for questionable reasons. One occurred when I tried to read an anti-anti-Semitism article. The filter didn't like one of the phrases in the article, failing to realize that the article was being critical of anti-Semitism, not promoting it.

These are minor complaints, and nothing compared to the fun of meeting those classy and fun ladies pictured above. But I am glad that we made it home in one piece!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Superior Scribblers

I am flattered to have been recognized as a "Superior Scribbler" by those prodigious purveyors of wit, wisdom, and whimsy, the Concordian Sisters. To receive this award from writers of their caliber is an honor indeed. If they hadn't already been so lauded themselves, I would be sending this right back their way. But I think they would prefer that I pass it on to some new but deserving recipients. The problem is choosing, because according to the Superior Scribbler rules, I may only share the award with five of my favorites. So to narrow down the field and make my task a little easier, I have decided to focus on the attribute of style. Each of my chosen blogs is of such singular voice that I think I could be dropped down in the middle of any of them and--even if there were no banner, color scheme, art work, title, or sidebar to offer clues--know where I was based on the words alone. (But winners, don't test me on that one, okay? I like your blogs just the way they are!)

I also admire each of these for their ingenuity. They come up with ways of seeing things and turns of phrases that would never occur to me. So here they are: my five Superior Scribblers. For each one I have linked to a post that I think epitomizes the author's characteristic style.

1. Caitlin - Random Thoughts

2. Melody - March of the Piggies

3. Elephant's Child - This Just In

4. Mossback Meadow - Foiled Again

5. Big Doofus - Can You Relate To This?


Did anyone see anything in the news yesterday about the March for Life in Washington, D. C.? Did the mainstream media even cover it?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hope, Part 2

A few days ago I wrote about hope (and my feeling that--especially as the word is used these days--it has been drained of meaning). Then coincidentally today my children and I read this passage from Screwtape (C. S. Lewis) that touches on the same topic:

"The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. . . . either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.

"Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human . . . to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past. . . . It is far better to make them live in the Future. . . .

"He [God] does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do. His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity . . . washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him. But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future--haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth--ready to break the Enemy's commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other--dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. . . .

"It follows then, in general, and other things being equal, that it is better for your patient to be filled with anxiety or hope (it doesn't much matter which) . . . than for him to be living in the present."


It's what he promised. Here's a glimpse into some of the changes we can expect.

He Didn't Waste Any Time, Did He?


Dana, you got your wish.

Lord, have mercy.

LOST Returns Tonight!

How long we Losties have waited for this day. And finally, it's here, just in time to to provide the escapism that some of us so desperately need right now.

If I could, I would give every Lost fan one of these--a 13-year-old live-in who has no interest in the show and who cheerfully and willingly entertains her little brother so that the bigger people in the house can attend to their addiction uninterrupted.

Thank you, sweetie. You're the best.

Inaugural Poem

I should probably just keep my mouth shut about this. After all, I'm not a poet (at least not in public!) and she is. But against my better judgment I just have to say . . .

That Inaugural poem was a dud.

I heard it before I saw it in print, so part of my reaction is probably due to the delivery. It's better read than spoken. (At least on paper it looks a little like a poem.) But Ms. Alexander's recitation was incredibly stilted, reminscent of one of those too-syrupy computer-generated female voices you hear when you call your bank or insurance company (why are they always female, anyway?)

Here's the text of the poem, with my humble annotations (to give it a fair shake, you should probably first read the poem in its entirety here ). Feel free to disagree.

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

(Well, that does seem to cover all the bases. But "Each day we go about our business"? Not an auspicious start, if you ask me. Sounds like a bank commercial.)

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

(Okay, this I get. The information society in which we live is definitely a brambly one. And yet there's a disconnect here. Brambles and thorns are visual/tactile images. They seem to me better suited to representing internal noise--the noise of our minds--than the external noise of the world, which is what I think she is talking about here. Also, what does it mean to have one's ancestors on your tongue? Can someone help me out with this one? And why is that reference there amidst the bramble?)

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

(Good. I like the concrete, Whitman-esque images. But like much of the poem, the third line is prosaic rather than poetic in the number of words required to express the thought behind the images. This is exposition, not poetry. )

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

(More Whitman a la "I Hear America Singing.") But please, a boom box? I'm sorry, but pushing the "play" button is a far cry from lifting one's own voice or playing the cello or harmonica. or drum. This is a cheap nod to the Obama youth vote. It doesn't belong here.)

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

(Okay, I'll give her a few points here. The second line is especially good. Would have been nice, though, if there had been a family in there somewhere.)

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

(Spiny? Don't know about that one. My thoughts have suddenly turned to dinosaurs.)

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

("What's on the other side"? Um, that would be the chicken, right?)

I know there’s something better down the road. (sigh. That tired old "road" metaphor again. It's been done, and far better.)
We need to find a place where we are safe. (Talk about a "duh" moment. Mr. Obama, are you listening?)
We walk into that which we cannot yet see. (Now she's making sense. We have no idea what this guy is going to do.)

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

(What about those who died defending us? Couldn't we get them in there somehow?)

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

(Well done. There's a lot of meaning behind the "hand-lettered sign" and the "figuring-it-out at kitchen tables." In fact, my husband and I did some of that just this morning. Both images illustrate one of the hallmarks of good poetry, which is saying a lot with a little.)

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

(What on earth does that last line mean?)

In today’s sharp sparkle (very good), this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim
(suddenly I'm thinking about coffee), on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

by Elizabeth Alexander, Copyright 2009

It's not terrible. It's just not very good. And in fairness, to write a good Inaugural poem is probably one of the toughest writing tasks there is. The creative act owes much to one's inner muse--maybe Ms. Alexander's was indifferent to her deadline. But good music and art and poetry also have much to do with craft. I would have expected better from someone with the poetic and literary pedigree of Ms. Alexander.

And it appears that I'm not the only one.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sickening, Just Sickening

So here I am, having not watched television all day, masochistically (and inscrutably) subjecting myself to news coverage of the Inaugural balls.

And what do I stumble on but actress Dana Delaney being interviewed outside one of those galas. After expressing her joy at the swearing in of the new President, she is asked by the interviewer what she hopes Mr. Obama will make his first priority in office.

So what do you think she said? Fix the struggling economy? Or perhaps, more likely for a Hollywood liberal, bring the troops home?

No. For Ms. Delaney, the first item on the agenda should be to "rescind the gag order" forbidding federal dollars from supporting international organizations that provide abortion services, funding or counseling overseas. Because, of course, nothing is more important than making sure there are more abortions in the world.

I think I was better off not watching.

Starting to Sink In

This morning I wrote about my indecision regarding whether or not to watch the Inauguration ceremony today. As luck would have it, I didn't have to make the decision. At about 8:30 I left to drive my son to a chess lesson. I didn't get home until almost 1:00, and since I was driving my van rather than my husband's car (the one with the XM radio) I was not able to listen either. After dropping my son off at home I hit the road again, this time heading to the day school for a conference with my younger son's preschool teacher. Then it was home again to work on a proofreading project and do some house chores. (Has anyone noticed that there has been no mention of teaching my children yet today?) By the time I turned on my television set it was 5:30. I was pleasantly surprised to see President Bush speaking live from a welcome home ceremony in Midland, Texas, having departed Washington, D. C. earlier in the day.

Then it hit me: it wasn't President Bush, but rather, as the description at the bottom of the screen made clear, "former President Bush." I've known this was coming for months. And yet I don't think it hit me until that moment. This is for real, and there's no going back. I took a deep breath, called my husband, and settled in to watch the rest of the speech.

There was just one problem. After several minutes, the Fox News Channel cut away from the speech to return to their 5:00 news broadcast and the political analysis of their panel on the day's events. EXCUSE ME? Our former president is saying goodbye, and it's not worth broadcasting?

No matter. There's always C-Span, right?

Wrong. We clicked over, only to discover live coverage of the Obamas watching the Inaugural Parade.

I couldn't find a single station that was carrying President Bush's speech live. I can't describe how sad and ashamed I felt at that moment. This man who has served us with integrity and moral clarity for the past 8 years and has kept us safe and exemplified good humor and kindness does not merit a final listen? What is wrong with this country?

Do you remember this? Eight years ago it was a different story. I recall at that time extensive day-long coverage of President Clinton's departure from Washington, D. C., even as another man, President George W. Bush, was taking his place in the White House.

How soon our ungrateful hearts forget. We're on to the glitz and glamour and fun of the parades and the parties with hardly a thought of the honorable man to whom we owe so much as he fades from view.

I'm sorry, Mr. Bush. I hope some day you can forgive us. May God bless you with much joy and well-earned rest in this new phase of your life.

Mixed Feelings

So today is Inauguration Day. I'm torn.

On the one hand, I appreciate the significance of this day. It feels as though maybe we have put some very bad stuff behind us once and for all. I look at Mr. Obama and am impressed by his ability and intelligence and all that he has achieved. I don't dislike him. I look at the Obamas and I see a beautiful family that I will be praying for and wishing well over the next four years. May they find the time for each other even as Mr. Obama takes on the toughest job in the world. May the Lord protect and keep them safe.

On the other hand, so much of what Mr. Obama campaigned on is in my opinion the opposite of what this country needs. I fear for our country and its safety. I fear for our economic well-being. I fear for free speech and individual freedom. I worry about the continued erosion of Judeo-Christian values. And I fear for all the children yet to be born.

I am also angry. I am angry at the hatred that continues to be shown towards George W. Bush, a good man who gave himself to us for eight years and who may not live to hear his country thank him.

So I don't think I can watch the Inauguration today. Better to busy myself with trying to make a difference here in my own little corner of the world.

Somehow, I don't think I'll be missed.

Incredibly Accurate Personality Test

I received this in an email and was so impressed I had to pass it along.

In the middle of the table is a round food tray with five kinds of fruits on it. They are--

A. Apple

B. Banana

C. Strawberry

D. Peach

E. Orange

Which fruit will you choose? Please think VERY carefully and don't rush into it. Your choice reveals a lot about you, and the results are astounding!

To see your result, go to the first post in the Comments field.

Monday, January 19, 2009


We're hearing a lot about hope these days. It's an irresistible word, yielding much in the way of good feelings but requiring little specificity or accountability. This, of course, is why politicians love it. For who could possibly be against hope? We want our children to feel it as they consider their future. It pains us when unpleasant reality forces us to share harsh truths that may have the effect of dashing youthful hope and idealism.

Sometimes, though, we have to do it. We have to be honest with our children about the fallen condition of the world in which they live. Perhaps it seems cruel and unfair.

But what I think is more cruel and unfair is to create and nourish false hope, as so many are doing today by buying into and propagating the lie that one man can singlehandedly wipe the slate clean and create an environment in which understanding reigns supreme and all problems can be solved if we just put our minds to it. I know all politicians engage in such rhetoric to some extent, but in my lifetime I have never seen so many people hang so much on one individual. It's as though at noon tomorrow we are all going to find ourselves in a brand new reality, one defined by hope. But here's a rather "inconvenient truth": feeling hopeful doesn't accomplish much. We have some big, big problems in this country. Human nature is such that we will never solve them all. As we try to address them, there will be differences of opinion, and it is not unreasonable or partisan to air those differences.

As much as we might like to, we can't promise our children a world in which hoping for something equals achieving or receiving it. But wouldn't it be nice if we could give them a world that at least promises them the chance to hope and to dream and to pursue all that it means to be human?

Mr. Obama, you were given that chance. Shouldn't everyone?

HT: Pastor Esget

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Disgusting Double Standard

So over in Germany it's okay to engage in pro-Hamas demonstrations by marching in the street and waving pro-Hamas messages, but if you exercise your right of free speech by hanging an Israeli flag inside your own apartment window, the police will come into your home and take it down--all in the name of your own protection, of course.

Of course.

What is scary is to consider that if this can happen in Germany, a supposedly free and democratic country, what's to prevent it from happening here?

Nothing, really, which is why it seems we are losing our freedoms left and right in this country. But there is hope, and it's called "we the people." It's up to us, our own selves, America. Do we care enough to stand up for freedom and the rule of law so that the nation we inherited is still worth passing on to the next generation? Or are we just interested in getting taken care of until it's our time to move on?

Sometimes I'm not sure I want to hear the answer.

God Knew Your Name

In observance of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, January 18, 2009, please take a moment to view this video created by Jim Likens. Rev. Likens, a pastor of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, is also the composer and performer of the song that accompanies the video. Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois was privileged to welcome Rev. Likens as its guest this weekend. Thank you, Rev. Likens, for being with us and for your commitment to the cause of protecting those who cannot speak for themselves.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I Don't Think I Want to Know How It Ends

Overheard today in the lobby of the hotel where my son is competing this weekend:

"It was kind of like Gone With the Wind, except with kangaroos."

And you thought chess players were boring.

In Search of Spirituality

The quest for "spirituality" has become something of a pop culture phenomenon, with contemporary gurus like Eckhart Tolle and Deepak "Magical Thinking" Chopra constantly hawking their sure-fire plans for achieving it. The common definition of spirituality these days seems to hearken back to the Transcendentals of the 19th century, signifying the seeking of a higher plane of existence, a rising above the day-to-day "grind." The phrases "power of positive thinking" and "mind over matter" come to mind. I think it's indicative of the emptiness felt by many today that the pursuit of spirituality has become such a huge and profitable industry. People are looking for meaning, and it would appear that a lot of them think they can find it by watching Oprah.

I can relate to the search for meaning. When I was in high school I had my own flirtation with the "Frogpondians" (as Edgar Allan Poe pejoratively termed them), copying long passages from Emerson and Thoreau in spiral-bound notebooks and reading them over and over again. I perused the books and publications of Unity Ministries, which were a presence in our house for a while. (Here's their statement of belief, a "path for spiritual living" that asserts, among other things, that Jesus is the great example of the "Christ" that is within us all, that the "essential nature" of human beings is good, and that the more we awaken to that nature the more we will be able to live out our "divine potential" in our daily lives.)

That sort of thinking appealed to me when I was young and dumb (this is not a slap at you, my dear children; you are much smarter than I was at your age). But the older I get the more clearly I see the idiocy of it. Because the older I get, the more I am able to look back on my life and see the sin that stains it. Each year that passes just results in adding new items to the stack of stupid things I have done. Each year that passes drives home with greater clarity the decay of the flesh, as I realize now at 44 that I have crested the hill and am on the way down. I have looked as good as I am ever going to look, had the best eyesight that I'm ever going to have, played the piano as well as I'm ever going to play it, and enjoyed the highest level of mental and physical ability that I will ever enjoy. And Oprah and her buddies want me to get "better"? The very thought makes me tired.

So I guess that's why I am finding so much to embrace in a book that I am reading right now entitled Grace Upon Grace--Spirituality for Today, by John W. Kleinig, a Lutheran pastor and theologian. Rev. Kleinig's definition of spirituality is different from today's popular usage that spirituality is something we need to work and progress at. Instead, Rev. Kleinig suggests the opposite: Christian spirituality has to do not with seeking, but with receiving. He calls it "receptive spirituality" and describes it as "the ordinary life of faith in which we receive Baptism, attend the Divine Service, participate in the Holy Supper, read the Scriptures, pray for ourselves and others, resist temptation, and work with Jesus in our given location here on earth." And although we like to imagine that life of faith as something we grow and progress in, Rev. Kleinig suggests a different view (emphasis mine):

"We all, quite understandably, long for some evidence of spiritual development and improvement, for some clear proof that we are on the right track as disciples of Christ. . . . Yet this progressive understanding of the spiritual life is not backed up by my experience and by the teaching of the New Testament. There is progress in the spiritual life, but it is a kind of reverse or paradoxical progress, our baptismal progress out of our old selves and into Christ. . . . " (p. 32)

Reverse progress? Now there's a concept I can relate to. Rev. Kleinig continues:

"God deals with us in a strange way as we travel on our course here on earth. Little by little he strips us down until we are left with nothing except our bare, fragile human soul, a soul that relies on Him utterly for its existence. Then He strips us of our soul in death. He takes away everything that we have in order to give us everything that he has in store for us. His purpose in this gradual demolition of us is to give Himself ever more fully to us and to bless us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). He brings us through the darkness of dying and death with Jesus to usher us completely into the light of His radiant face" (35).

Reading this I am reminded of another passage, this one in The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, which I have been reading out loud with my children. In case you're not familiar with the book, the speaker, Screwtape, is a senior demon giving advice to a junior one on how to win a soul for their boss, the Devil:

"My dear Wormwood,

The most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion. No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue, I gather; not even the expectation of an endowment of 'grace' for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation. This is very bad.

"I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, 'By jove! I'm being humble', and almost immediately pride--pride at his own humility--will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt--and so on, through as many stages as you please."

Last month saw the release of the motion picture The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald story of the same name. I have not seen the movie nor read the story, but I would like to do both. The movie is receiving quite positive reviews, and the premise sounds fascinating: when he is born, Benjamin Button is inexplicably an old man. As his life progresses, he "ages" in reverse, dying when he finally reaches infancy.

There is a saying that as people age they tend to become either more hellish or more heavenly. I am sorry to say that for the past few years I have felt that I am falling into the first category much more than the second. It is a feeling that doesn't bode well for my chances in the spiritual growth department. On the other hand, as I daily get closer to the end of my earthly life, whenever that may be, perhaps something good can come of the sense that I am regressing rather than progressing. If it can serve to continue reminding me of my utter and infant-like dependence upon the Father and my hopelessness and helplessness without a Saviour, then it is a good thing. If spiritual growth is a matter not of getting stronger but instead of fading away, of allowing myself to decrease--kind of like Alice's Cheshire Cat--so that Christ can increase, then maybe this weakening mind and body are blessing me more than I will ever know.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mr. Poe

Monday is the second centennial of the birth of American writer Edgar Allan Poe. Another American writer, the naturalist Henry James, once said that "Enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection." Well, I guess I'm just hopelessly unsophisticated because I would much rather read a short story by Mr. Poe than one of Mr. James' tedious tomes.

Here's a Wall Street Journal article by John Miller of National Review commemorating the occasion of Poe's bicentennial. Enjoy reading, and then go recite "The Raven" for old time's sake.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Iced In

This is bordering on ridiculous.

Here's the view from inside.

Click here to see what this room looked like back in the summer and less than one month ago.

It's only anecdotal, I know. But my personal experience leads me to think that the Chicken Littles starting to scream global cooling might actually have something.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Living Out Our Faith

An Issues, Etc. podcast that I recently listened to included a comment from a listener concerned about the equating of Christianity with a certain political philosophy. He specifically objected to what he felt was an insistence by some in the recent presidential election that the only reasonable way for Christians to vote was for the McCain/Palin ticket. I liked program host Pastor Wilken's answer a lot. He said that while Issues, Etc. is a program that is pro-life, pro-family, and pro-marriage, it does not endorse any one candidate or political party. The business of Issues, Etc. is the proclamation of Law and Gospel, so it concerns itself with those issues on which one can read the Bible and pronounce, "Thus sayeth the Lord." Political parties and candidates take stands on all sorts of issues to which God's Word does not speak directly. Thus, said Pastor Wilken, Issues, Etc. does not presume to do so either.

Listening to this made me think of the whole question of world view and how it is informed by my faith and in turn informs the choices I make. My vote for the McCain/Palin ticket in the recent election was certainly influenced by my faith, since my faith is so much a part of who I am. Likewise, our faith is a factor in other decisions that my husband and I make, such as how we choose to rear our children. But that doesn't mean we look to the Bible for explicit instructions on whom to vote for or how to teach and discipline our children.

I therefore get uncomfortable when fellow Christians purport to know what is the right choice for other Christians on issues for which God's Word is not obviously prescriptive. I'm not talking about things like the Commandments and Articles of Faith. Our Lord is clear about what sin is and about our need for a Saviour. He is clear that there is only one path to salvation and that it runs through the body and blood of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. But there are all kinds of decisions in our lives that He grants us freedom to make. And while we may very well (and should) base those decisions on what we believe to be most in line with the living out of our faith, we should not presume to tell other Christians that our choices should be theirs. As much as I believe in homeschooling, I would never tell a non-homeschooling friend that the way she has chosen to educate her children is an indicator of a less mature or committed faith. Homeschooling is a left-hand, not a right-hand kingdom, issue. And while I believe the choice to homeschool is one way that I as a parent am fulfilling my calling to my children ("Fathers [and mothers], do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord"--Ephesians 6:5), I don't believe it is the one and only right way to do that. I just think that at this point in time it is best for our family.

Likewise, I would never presume to tell Christians who have elected to use non-abortifacient birth control that their choice somehow indicates a lack of trust in the plans that God has for them or an effort to usurp those plans. Yes, God told Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply," but He did not tell them how or on what schedule to do so. Yes, he said, "Thou shalt not murder," but barrier or rhythm birth control methods and natural family planning do not put an end to a human life; they merely prevent conception. And an all-powerful God can certainly work around them! I respect those Christians who have decided to embrace "perpetual parturition" (like the charming, brilliant, and breathtakingly witty ladies whose thoughts I love to read over at the Concordian Sisters blog), and I say more power to them. We need more little Christians--and particularly Lutherans--running around! But I also think there are families for whom non-abortifacient family planning is the way in which they can best fulfill their calling to perform their own parental roles and to bring up their children in the way of the Lord.

Homeschooling is the lifestyle that my husband and I have chosen, and we have chosen it because we believe in it passionately. We will gladly share that passion with others and encourage them to consider making the same choice, because it is the best way we have found to nurture our family and bring up our children in the faith. But we would never say to those who do not home school their own children that their choice is standing athwart God's purposes and that somehow they are not following His will for their lives. It is not our place to claim to know God's will on such a matter.

Likewise, I have great respect for those men and women who have chosen a lifestyle that places the number and timing of children entirely in God's hands. I love to see large families. I grew up in one myself. And since those who have chosen this path must certainly believe in its merits, I am not offended to hear them sing its praises. But what does offend me is the attitude of some who have disavowed any sort of birth control that they are more trusting of God because they are taking no steps to manage their child-bearing years. There are those for whom another baby is a kind of tempting of fate or testing of God akin to jumping off a building and trusting God to save them. If every fiber of their being is saying "No, I'm not ready for this," then who am I to say otherwise? Maybe the mental or physical condition of the mother or father is such that the well-being of parent and/or child would be a huge question mark. Maybe there are difficult financial or logistical issues--not issues of comfort or luxury, but issues of how to feed and clothe and educate another child. Maybe there are aging parents whose care would be compromised if the caregiver had another baby. Yes, children are a blessing. But for some families the blessings that have already come their way are such that they demand an extra measure of care. And perhaps there are burdens in the mix that lead the man and woman contemplating another child to use their God-given discernment to decide that it might just be God's plan for them to hold off on a new blessing so that they can attend to the needs of those who are already before them.

What's Going On With My Brain?

Is it aging? Or hormones? Or motherhood-induced ADD?

More importantly, is it going to get better someday?

Used to be that in choir practice if the conductor (a.k.a. my husband) directed a comment to me I was all over it. Heck, often I knew what he was going to say before he said it, like ESP.

But these days sometimes I feel like he's talking Chinese:

"We're going to start on page 10, second system, third measure, on the 'and' of two. Please play the alto line and then bring in the bass two measures later."

Huh? Could you repeat that, please? What page did you say? (Forget about the rest of it.)

So while the choir patiently waits, I try to sort through the multiple pieces of information wrapped up in that sentence and figure out where we are. (By the way, do you realize how many pieces of information that is? Page, system, measure, and beat multiplied by four? It's like having sixteen children all talking at once.)

Once upon a time I would have been there in a flash. These days I feel like a little old woman in slow motion. "What was that, Sonny Boy? I found page 10. What measure, again? Can you wait a minute while I clean my glasses and take a bathroom break?"

To my favorite choir and director--I'm sorry. I hope you can bear with me. Maybe in time this will get better. One can hope, anyway.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Science and Christianity

Think back to your school days for a moment. Do you remember when you first learned about Christopher Columbus? If so, do you remember what you were taught? If you're like a lot of people, you heard that those of Columbus' day, particularly Christians, believed that the world was flat and that if Columbus sailed far enough he would fall off the edge of the earth. As Bruce Walker points out in an article for American Thinker, the story feeds the narrative that Christianity and science are inherently antagonistic to one another, since Christianity hinges on faith and science supposedly hinges on reason. It is a narrative that is still actively promulgated today among proponents of evolutionary theory.

Problem is, that supposed antagonism, as well as the idea that Renaissance and Medieval-era Christians believed in a flat earth, is a myth. An objective study of evolutionary theory reveals that it relies much less on empirical science than on extraordinary leaps of faith. And unlike creationism, it has no explanation for how the universe came into being.

Likewise, a study of the historical record reveals that the idea that people of the Middle Ages thought the earth was flat dates only to the 19th century. Before that time the truth was widely known: that educated people, including Christians, have for 2000 years known that the earth is round.

So what happened in the 19th century that started the myth of Christians believing in a flat earth? And why has it had such staying power?

You can read more about the first question here. As for the second question, I think part of it is just the storybook element. Human beings are suckers for irony and surprise endings. So the thought of an intrepid sailor heading off into the unknown while a world watches and waits in fear for him to fall off the edge of the horizon is an image we can't resist. The word "history" has "story" in it, and the best history, the kind that stays with us, is made up of larger-than-life stories. But when those stories are mythical rather than factual in nature, we end up with a false historical record. Because once a story is introduced and embraced, it takes on a life of its own, and the truth or lack thereof matters little.

But in this case there is something more going on than a riveting story. In this case the story was an intentional deception by someone with an agenda. Others with the same agenda latched on to it and are still latching on to it today. The stereotype of Christians as vacant-eyed, stupid, unthinking automatons is still with us, perhaps now more than ever before. Never mind that one of the foundations of Christianity is a belief in an orderly and understandable universe rather than one that is random and filled with mutations and "mistakes." If you ask me, the former sounds a lot friendlier to science than the latter.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Finding Kansas

If you or anyone you know is affected by Asperger Syndrome, please take a moment to read this. It is a link to the site of Aaron Likens, a young man with Asperger Syndrome whose recently released book, Finding Kansas, is receiving widespread recognition and critical praise from AS patients, experts, and groups nationwide. The "Kansas" of the title is not a geographical place but rather the place where the AS sufferer feels at home and at ease--in other words, his comfort zone. For Aaron Likens, that place is racing. As he describes it, he can feel paralyzed in certain situations--this is known by AS experts as the "situational handicap"--while functioning quite effectively in others. I guess everyone experiences this to some extent, since we all have places where we are more comfortable than others, but most of us learn methods of handling those uncomfortable environments and getting through them more or less effectively. Those who have Asperger Syndrome, however, can find such situations to be overwhelming and debilitating. The link above explains what this is like more clearly than anything I have ever read, making the point that an Asperger sufferer in his "Kansas" may seem completely relaxed and "normal" in the way he behaves and interacts with others, whereas if you see him at another place and time he may seem like a completely different person.

We became aware of Finding Kansas through the author's father, a former Lutheran pastor who is an acquaintance of my husband's. Our copy is already on the way from Barnes & Noble. As someone who knows and loves several people with Asperger Syndrome, I can't wait to read this book. I'll let you know what I think after I have read it. But if you have any interest in learning more about AS, I heartily recommend visiting Aaron's page. In just a few short paragraphs he provides an insider view of Asperger Syndrome that may help you to understand the Asperger sufferer you know in a way you never have before.

Thoughts on the Economy

Have you noticed that while the President-Elect has stated his intention to remain quiet on international affairs until he takes office (not wanting to step on the current occupant's toes), he is not at all shy about speaking out on the economy? (This is not my own observation. I stole it from someone, but can't remember the source.)

Does anyone besides me find it illogical that the government is going to take more money from us so that it can give us more money?

Did you happen to see the Republican response to Obama's economic speech yesterday (or was it the day before)? John Boehner and Mitch McConnell were doing their best to look like it mattered what they had to say. But the glazed looks in their eyes and the whipped expressions on their faces spoke much louder than their words.

It's going to be a very long four years. And yes, I'm holding out for no more than four.

A Silver Lining?

You know, the economic crisis could yield some benefits. Unless, of course, Congress decides to grant the bailout money currently being requested by the abortion and porn industries.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Vocabulary Lessons

From World Magazine, the Dec. 27/Jan. 3 issue:

"Oxford University Press editors culled a number of religious and historical words from the latest edition of its Junior Dictionary in a move aimed at reflecting Britain's modern, multicultural, and multi-faith society. Words that got the boot included bishop, coronation, empire, monarch, nun, and sin, while new additions included blog, broadband, celebrity, MP3 player, and voicemail. Company spokeswoman Vineeta Gupta defended the company's decision, saying the size of the dictionary ('little hands must be able to handle it') limits how many words are included."

The dictionary in question is a children's illustrated version. It isn't intended to be all-encompassing. So I understand the need to make room for new words by weeding out outdated ones. But it surprises me that in Great Britain they would remove words like monarch and coronation. These words seem so central to their identity and history. They still have a royal family, for Pete's sake! But even more bewildering to me is trading sin for celebrity. What are the editors thinking? Oh, right--sin is so old-fashioned, so pásse--who needs a word like sin in our tolerant, progressive, enlightened postmodern world? ". . . [T]here is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so" (Hamlet II.ii.255-57). But celebrity--now there's a word that matters. There's a word our children really need to know.

I'm so glad that the people in a position to make these decisions have our children's best interests at heart, aren't you?

So tell me again about overpopulation?

Inventor of birth control pill has regrets as European countries face impending demise.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Taste of Chicago

If you have been following the political shenanigans in Illinois with any degree of interest, you will not want to miss this tour de force from Tribune columnist John Kass.

Reason to Worry

Thanks to my husband's XM radio, we passed some of our time on the road the last few days listening to conservative talk radio. Judging by what I heard on Bill O'Reilly's daytime call-in show, some of my fears about an Obama administration are already starting to come true. According to O'Reilly, Obama has indicated his intention to put a stop to several measures that many credit with helping to keep us safe over the last eight years. Those are 1) eavesdropping on overseas communications; 2) enhanced interrogations; and 3) rendition (this practice was instituted by Bill Clinton, bless his heart). In addition, O'Reilly says that Obama has caved to the left in his appointment of someone with no intelligence experience to head the CIA.

O'Reilly says--and I think he is right--that if Obama gets his way on all of these measures (and why wouldn't he?) the chances of another terror attack in the next few years will rise precipitously. And if that happens, I think the causal relationship will be obvious. No post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy here.

It's times like these I wish we lived in some remote, deserted corner of Wyoming or North Dakota instead of in the Chicago suburbs. My husband and I are moving "emergency preparedness" to the top of our to-do list.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Angel at the Fence

Have you heard the story "Angel at the Fence"? I received it via email this past year.

It was recently revealed to be a hoax. The subjects/propagators of the story have said their motivation was not to deceive or personally profit but to touch hearts with an inspirational tale relating to the Holocaust.

Here's one writer's thoughts on the whole episode. He says it is just an example of a trend towards "candy-coating the Holocaust" by focusing on peripheral stories that pull at the heartstrings rather than looking the horror of the Holocaust squarely in the face.

I'm not sure what I think of his thesis. It seems to me that one thing kids are learning in history classes these days is Holocaust history.

On the other hand, perhaps the writer has a point. Maybe it's just too painful for us to face the evil of that time head on, and so we deal with it by coming at it from less shocking angles.

Or maybe the world is already starting to forget. As I look at the news of the day, it seems to me that anti-Semitism is alive and well. Here's one perspective from a respected source that provocatively says it is even worse today than in Hitler's Germany.

What do you think?

Monday, January 5, 2009


Visiting Memorial-Houston

Speaking of homes away from home, whenever we are in the Houston area, our church of choice is Memorial Lutheran. We got to go there yesterday. Not only were we blessed by Word and Sacrament, beautiful music, and Gospel preaching (from Pastor St. Onge), but we got to see some old friends!

Pastor Murray was not around--who does he think he is, going on vacation? (just kidding!)--but we did get to see friends Tom DuBois and Cantor Jan Muth. Caitlin and Evan enjoyed working with Cantor Muth at the LCMS worship conference this summer, so for them this was something of a reunion. (We tried to get a picture with the children and Jan on the organ bench, but Evan wouldn't go near the balcony rail. He's not used to a loft!)

We also enjoyed a tour of Memorial's recently completed building project. Feast your eyes (while reciting the 9th and 10th commandments) on their new music room . . .

nursery . . .

and (hold on to your hats) youth room.

How wonderful to see God at work among our brethren in the Houston area! And what a treat to be able to be among them! Memorial is blessed indeed, with gifted people like Cantor Muth, Tom DuBois, and six--count them, six--pastors on staff.

And to top it all off, we got to have lunch at La Madeleine (see previous post)!

It was a lovely day. But I'm still looking forward to going home tomorrow.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Home Away from Home

I spent the first 29 years of my life in Texas. I've spent the last 15 in Illinois (more than half of those in Chicagoland). In that time I have come to regard the latter as my home and to sincerely appreciate the Midwest. But I guess deep down I will always consider myself a Texas girl. As they say (at least I think they do), "You can take the girl out of the South, but you can't take the South out of the girl." I think I will be a Texan to my dying day.

Right now that is in fact where I am, visiting family in Houston. So over the past few days I have had opportunity to remember some of what I love about this part of the country. There are things I enjoy here that I can't in Chicago. For example . . .

Seeing family. Most of mine and my husband's live here.
Evening walks in January, in shorts no less!
Flowers, green grass, and trees with leaves--again, in January!
A governor who doesn't try to sell Senate seats
Cowboy hats & boots (on real cowboys)
Sonic limeades & Blue Bell ice cream
The best Indian food I have ever had
The best French bistro I have ever visited (obviously, I've never been to France)
Higher humidity - (It is ironic that this is on my list, because I used to curse what the humidity did to my hair. But now that I have decided to quit fighting my curls and embrace them, I like my hair much better in a tropical or near-tropical environment than I do in the dry Midwest.)

On the other hand, Illinois has . . .

Some of the dearest friends I have ever had, not only in Illinois but in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana, too.
All the seasons. It's nice to have four of them, even though winter lasts too long.
Some of the most beautiful landscaping I have ever seen. Midwesterners spend a lot more time on their yards than Southerners, maybe because the chance to do so is so fleeting?
White Christmases.
Chicago. Sorry, Houston, but Chicago wins the big city contest, hands down.
Bratwurst and Italian beef.
Less humidity. (I like what the humidity does for my hair, but not what it does for my acne-prone skin.)

When my husband and I first moved to Illinois, it seemed like an interim step. For a long time I had the feeling that we would some day go back to Texas. We both spent formative years and attended college there. Our families and friends were there. But somewhere along the way that feeling subsided. In spite of my affection for my home state, I no longer anticipate returning. In fact, I think it's more likely that day will not come. We have put down roots--strong roots--in Illinois, and barring some unexpected event I don't see us leaving until maybe retirement.

It will be nice to go home in a few days.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Christmas Music

It's still Christmas! So I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite Christmas music CD's. They are listed here in no particular order, just as they came to mind.

1. Gene Autry, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - I grew up listening to this record every Christmas. In my opinion, Autry's "Rudolph" is still the definitive version. The rest of the CD is classic as well. I'm not sure whatever happened to my parents' copy of this album, but now that it has been remastered and is available on CD I plan to add it to my library again!

2. The Andy Williams Chrismas Album - I think Andy Williams has one of the best male voices around. This one, too, always got played in our house at Christmastime. "Kay Thompson's Jingle Bells" is especially fun listening. As with the Autry album, I had thought this was no longer available, but I see demand has brought it back on CD. This one's going on my wishlist as well!

3. A Charlie Brown Christmas - Enough said. Christmas is just not complete in our house without it.

4. Barbra Streisand, A Christmas Album - I know--it's a little strange to hear Streisand, who is Jewish, singing Christmas music. Her "Ave Maria" is surreal. But I have always loved her voice, and her versions of ballads such as "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The Christmas Song" and "White Christmas" are, as they say, like "butter."

5. Acoustic Christmas - The one and only reason for buying this CD is Harry Connick's instrumental piano-only version of "Winter Wonderland." It is not to be missed and is worth the price of the CD, even if you like nothing else on it. He makes the piano sound like 4 or 5 instruments rather than one. Truly phenomenal.

6. James Taylor, A Christmas Album - Classic JT. This is his 2004 Christmas release (he did another Christmas album in 2006). Includes an instant classic in the duet "Baby, It's Cold Outside," sung with Natalie Cole, and gorgeous, reflective versions of "In the Bleak Midwinter" and "Some Children See Him."

7. An American Christmas, the Boston Camerata - Over an hour's worth of music, including both Advent and Christmas selections (here's the full listing of selections). A variety of styles in the American tradition, authentically performed.

8. Take 6, He is Christmas - Classic Take 6 a capella vocal stylings. I especially like the title track--kind of says it all.

9. In Bleak Midwinter: Soft Sounds of Christmas - A compilation of various artists/choirs performing quiet and peaceful Advent & Christmas classics. The title makes it sound like a soft pop collection, but it's not that at all. Instead it's a collection of gems such as "In Dulci Jubilo," "The Wexford Carol," "Cradle Song," "The Holly and the Ivy," and Mozart's "Ave Verum."

10. John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers - This one or this one or this one. Take your pick. They're all replete with gorgeous choral arrangements of classic Christmas carols.

11. A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, Kings College - As my regular readers know, I am a huge fan of the Lessons and Carols service broadcast live every Christmas Eve from Kings College Chapel in Cambridge. The recording listed here is currently unavailable. There are other recordings of this service available, and I would recommend any of them, but this is the one I would choose if I could because it was recorded during David Willcocks' tenure as director, and his arrangements and descants are in my opinion still the definitive ones.

So there you go. I could list others, but am making myself stop here. I'd love to hear what some of your favorites are! If you want, please share them in the comments section.

Happy 8th day of Christmas!