". . . 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)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Double Standard

Most conservatives would agree that most of our news media exhibit a liberal bias. But more and more I think they have moved beyond a merely liberal bias to a specifically Obama bias. Dick Morris (former Chief of Staff for Bill Clinton, now a political writer and commentator) was on The O'Reilly Factor last night after President Obama's press conference. He pointed out that last night's event was President Obama's third prime time press conference since taking office. He is basically having one per month. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, had only two prime time press conferences during his first term. Dick Morris said that the Clinton administration asked for more--would have liked more--but the networks wouldn't cough them up.

It seems to me that Obama is still in campaign mode and that these press conferences are as much about whipping up popular support and keeping the adulation quotient up as they are about answering questions. Moreso, in fact. I read an article this morning at American Thinker about the importance of Americans' fascination with celebrity to President Obama's popularity. Here's a key quote: "The emergence of Barack Obama marries American popular culture and American politics."

Considering the state of our popular culture in this country, that's a troubling thought indeed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu

Usually I love where I live, but this is one of those times that I don't. Right now I'm thinking Montana would be nice.

The Illinois State Public Health Director has announced that there are currently nine suspected cases of swine flu in my state. Five are in Chicago and four are in outlying counties, two of them very near the county in which I live. Boy, this thing isn't wasting any time.

I know that it remains to be seen how serious this will get. But in my opinion now is the time to start taking precautions. I have reviewed with my children things they can do to protect themselves from germs when they are out in public. For example: avoid touching your face. If you have to use a public restroom, don't turn off the faucet after you wash your hands, but instead get a towel and dry them first and then use that same towel to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door to exit.

I have purchased some hand sanitizer for each of our cars and will start having people use it after we have been in a public place. Today I ordered a package of these, which I know aren't foolproof but are better than nothing. And I have for some time now been trying to stock up on non-perishables so that if we need to hole up at home for a while we'll be able to. I also plan to keep the car filled up with gas and to make sure we are well stocked on our prescription medications.

For several years I had a piano student who was immune suppressed. Whenever anyone in our house was even slightly ill, I would inform her mother and she would skip that week's lesson. Sometimes during cold and flu season she would take her piano lesson wearing a mask. When she left my house and got in her car the first thing she would do is put sanitizer on her hands. She and her parents weren't being paranoid but simply taking reasonable steps to protect Katie in an environment that was potentially full of dangers to her health.

I think right now we should all take a lesson from Katie. Better safe than sorry.


Our president is on television right now talking about how he plans to launch a new era of spending discipline in which if the government wants to institute a new program or a tax cut it must first tell the American people where the money is coming from. His statement was met with wild claps and cheers from the adoring crowd.

Does anyone find this is as chilling as I do?

Work Day

Yesterday we called a house and yard jihad, cancelling school and declaring war on our property. Everyone helped.

Well, almost everyone.

(Photo credit: Evan)

Here's a picture of our whiteboard with the list of things that we wanted to get done. (The house and yard items are in the bottom left quadrant; the other lists pertain to other things like school, errands, or longer term projects.)

Here's what we accomplished:
Replace bad light switch in Evan's room
Everyone clean his or her own bedroom
Dust inside of china cabinet
Vaccuum cobwebs in ceilings and corners
Organize school supplies
Vacuum & dust
Clean bathrooms
Switch house house air flow to direct upward, close downstairs vents and open upstairs ones for summer cooling
Put away clutter and personal belongings around the house
Replace sunroom storm windows with screens
Throw out dead sunroom plants
Lubricate sticky sliding glass door
Pick up doggie poo
Pull weeds
Pick up yard trash and debris
Set out deck chairs
Connect garden hoses
Sweep steps and sidewalk

It's nice to have a neater house and yard!

(Photo credit: Evan)

And a clean bedroom!

Here's what didn't get done:
Trim shrubs
Clean windows
Wash curtains
We're having another work day on my husband's next day off (Tuesday) and if necessary, again the week after that. We have to get our garden planted! And there are still lots of things on the longer term task list, such as organizing books, cleaning the carpet, getting caught up on putting photos in albums, filing/shredding paperwork, and doing various small house beautification projects such as painting. But I think we got an amazing amount accomplished yesterday, don't you? Thanks, family! You're a great team!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yay, Fox!

The Fox network (not to be confused with Fox News) has announced that it will not be pre-empting its regular programming to broadcast the President's 100th Day press conference tomorrow night but will follow its normal schedule (which on that day and time means viewers will get to watch an episode of the series Lie to Me. I'll leave the sarcastic comments to my readers.)

I approve. The press conference will be broadcast on Fox News and a plethora of other stations (including, no doubt, ABC, CBS, and NBC as well as the other major cable news networks). Our president is all about freedom of choice, is he not? There will be plenty of other places to watch the press conference (and the ensuing media love fest). Good for the Fox network for giving viewers an alternative.

Quote of the Day

"Never, ever put a man in charge of your military defense who has not at the very, very least, successfully done battle with his own teenagers."

From Kyle-Anne Shiver, "Barry, Honey, Can We Talk About Torture?", American Thinker

Monday, April 27, 2009

Miss California

A lot of people who share my world view have lately been celebrating Carrie Prejean's performance in the question & answer segment of the most recent Miss USA pageant. They liked her answer because she defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.

I agree with her definition, and I am pleased that she stood up for her views even though the questioner was clearly looking for a different, politically correct response. But I don't quite get the rush to turn Carrie Prejean into some sort of role model for young Christians. She was competing in a beauty pageant, for goodness' sake. And why was she there? Because she's smart and talented? Well, maybe she is. But that's what not got her up on the stage. She was on that stage because she has a beautiful face and body. The Miss USA pageant, unlike the Miss America pageant, doesn't even have a talent segment.

I have to say also that I didn't find her to be particularly articulate. I didn't watch the pageant but first heard her response played on the radio a day or two later and found myself chuckling at yet another goofy beauty pageant answer. Miss Prejean started out by saying how great it is to live in a country where one can choose. Well, in my opinion, choice is not necessarily a good thing. It depends on what one is choosing. She went on to say that while some may choose same-sex marriage, she believes in "opposite" marriage. Huh? That left me scratching my head. When she finally got to stating her own view of marriage, it was a little less than stalwart, beginning with the words "I think I believe . . . ."

I'm not trying to diminish Miss Prejean. I do applaud her for not giving the PC answer. But I also don't think she deserves to be turned into some sort of conservative pop hero. And apparently I'm not the only one.

Like Father, Like Son

A few days ago I rounded the corner from our kitchen to our family room and saw a masculine figure sitting at the computer. It took a second look to discern whether it was my husband or my older son.

Later that same day while I was upstairs in my bedroom I heard a deep male voice singing in the living room. It took a few more seconds before I could ascertain which of the baritones in my family it belonged to.

Yesterday the younger of those two baritones led the chanting of Psalm 4 at church. There was a time when I used to read Psalm 4 to that same child almost every night before bed: "In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you, alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety."

It's getting harder and harder to tell who's playing the piano at any given time, and to sort out the socks and underwear, and to talk to a male member of my family without looking up.

I think I'm seeing a pattern here, and it's wonderful and depressing at the same time.

One Down, Nineteen to Go!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

If you went to church today . . .

please consider visiting my husband's blog and weighing in on a question he is posing in the comments section of his most recent post there. Your reward will be a couple of great stories about the power of excellent hymnody!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Piano Competition, Part 2

And now, here's Trevor performing Frederic Chopin's Ballade #1 in G-minor, Op. 23. It's almost 10 minutes of stunning playing; if you don't have time for the whole thing, you can just pick a few spots at random because it's all stellar. I wish the sound quality of both videos were better; this was recorded with my cell phone (my old video recorder is broken, but a new digital recorder is on my wish list)! This was Trevor's fifth year to compete in this event and his second year to win first place in his level; he also won first place overall in the advanced division of the competition, for which he was awarded $100 and the distinction of not being allowed to return next year. So we are looking for alternative competitions--let me know if you have any suggestions!

Piano Competition - Part 1

My two oldest children participated in the Southwest Suburban (Chicago) Piano Competition today. Here's Caitlin playing Puck, Op. 71, No. 3, by Edvard Grieg. The piece is a lot of fun to play and to listen to, evoking the mischievous nature of the mythological character from which it gets its name. The piece suited Caitlin quite well, perhaps because she shares Puck's mischievous playfulness and fondness for nature. She's also a night owl like him! This is a magnificent performance. You can tell she's progressed in her skills because this year she got to perform in the auditorium on a Steinway!

Be Careful, Everyone

Swine Flu in Mexico Has Pandemic Potential

Friday, April 24, 2009

Quick and Healthy Breakfast

Not long ago, my Lutheran homeschooling email list spent some time discussing breakfast. One of the list members asked for easy breakfast ideas and received such suggestions as bagels with cream cheese, toast with fruit spread, yogurt with granola, oatmeal, and boiled eggs. I have another suggestion to add to the list:

Dark chocolate covered raisins.

You think I'm kidding.

I'm not kidding. I had them for breakfast today. Just think about it: by eating dark chocolate covered raisins, you get to enjoy all the health benefits of both dark chocolate and raisins. And if you have them with coffee while you're reading email and blogs, I can guarantee you will start the day off with the right attitude.

Go ahead. Try it sometime, with my blessing. (Just don't tell my 5-year-old, okay?)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Better Reading List

Not long ago I shared my thoughts on a list of literary works that the College Board recommends college-bound students read before leaving high school. In my opinion the list is unrealistic in scope, with too many titles and a number of selections that I consider to be more college than high school terrain.

Here's a better list, compiled by Bill Bennett a few years ago after he posed the question to a group of experts he selected. I have read either all or part of everything on the list except for the Communist Manifesto. (Must I?) I didn't finish War and Peace, I can't say that I have read every last word of Homer, and I've only read parts of Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics and Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Oh yes, and I'm ashamed to admit I haven't read every one of Shakespeare's plays (although I've read many). That's one of my goals before I die. But the rest of it I've got covered--even all of Paradise Lost (that is one great read, let me tell you). Do you think that means I could get back into college? What about you? Are you college material. Go and see. (To my teenagers: if you want to see what's coming in the next few years, this list will give you a good idea. And take note of what we've already read. We're making good progress!)

By the way, there is nothing on Bennett's list younger than 30 years old. I like that. Not that a work has to be old to be good. But I think it takes a little time to ascertain if something is a classic or not. The College Board list was, in my opinion, a bit too eager to open the door to modern literature.

(HT: Kathryn Lopez, The Corner at National Review)

Happy Birthday, Will - Updated

William, that is. Shakespeare. Today is probably his birthday (historians don't know for sure but guess at it based on his baptismal record). If you want to join in a little fêting, here's one place you can do so.

Update: If you're so inclined, you're invited to come back here after visiting the link and play along by posting your own favorite Shakespearean play.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I may have to change my coffee (and my profile)

I admit it: I'm a coffee addict. I don't think I drink as much as some people--I generally have two cups--okay, mugs--in the morning and one in the afternoon when the sleepies hit. But I must acknowledge that I am dependent, especially on that first morning cup. Without it I can count on a headache.

For years now I have been drinking Caribou coffee. I just prefer the taste to Starbuck's. We like Caribou coffee so much that a few years ago my husband looked into opening our own franchise. (I'm kind of glad he stuck to church music.) At that time he also looked into concerns about Caribou's connections to Islamic militants. If you check into Caribou's history on Snopes or Urban Legends, you will find that yes, First Islamic Investment Bank is majority owner of the company and that at one time there was an advisory board member known for having strong anti-Israel and anti-American views. But you will also find that the person in question is no longer on the advisory board (having left in 2002) and that Caribou has hired an American law firm to review its charitable donations and affirm that none are going to organizations banned under U.S. law.

Still, I wonder if my money could be better spent. If only Starbuck's coffee tasted a little better it would be easy! Today, though, I may have another reason to make a change not only to my preferred coffeehouse but also to my profile. Starbuck's, maybe it's time we got to know each other a little better.

It Worked!

I got him posting again!

Actually, I can't take credit. There are some things going on in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod that are highly significant and time-sensitive. Go to my husband's blog (yes, I have given up all hope of maintaining any kind of anonymity here--you all know who I am, anyway) to find out more. He lays it out pretty clearly and provides a link to a place where you can make your voice heard. I strongly encourage all of my LCMS readers to do so as soon as possible.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Read This

I'm not going to provide quotations or context for you. It's short. You just need to read it.

Editorial from the Washington Times:

Rationing Health Care

Monday, April 20, 2009

Everyday Heroes

You are probably familiar with the Susan Boyle craze that is sweeping the blogosphere. She is the middle-aged woman whose audition for the television show Britain's Got Talent has taken on a life of its own. I have to say that when I first watched the video of her singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables, I didn't quite get what all the fuss was about. Yes, she has a very good voice--but I know a lot of good singers, including several that I think have better ones. Why aren't they on YouTube getting all this attention? All I could come up with is Susan Boyle herself and her life story and her looks, both of which for some reason make people think she won't be able to sing. So she's never been kissed and she's not model-attractive. Why does that make people surprised that she can sing? Watching the video of her audition, I will admit I was moved by the sight of an everyday woman like myself finally getting to pursue her dream. I get that. Good for her! But my initial reaction to her voice was that yes, it's nice, but it is lacking a bit in nuance and sounds like it could use a little more training. All you Susan Boyle fans out there, please don't come gunning for me!

But then I heard this recording of Ms. Boyle singing "Cry Me a River" (HT: Gene Veith). It's from a charity CD recorded in 1999. All I can say is "Wow!" Now that is a voice! I think it's much better than her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" and shows off much more of what her voice is capable of. The "I Dreamed a Dream" performance uses sort of an all-out Broadway approach, whereas this song in my opinion shows many more layers of Ms. Boyle's voice. I can't help wondering if the Britain's Got Talent people got hold of Ms. Boyle and made her dress and sing a certain way and perhaps even picked that song (listen to the words) so as to maximize the desired effect. Certainly it is to their benefit to have the Susan Boyle phenomenon sweeping the world the way it is, and seeing as how this is not the first time something like this has happened with this show, I can't help wondering to what extent it was set up.

I know; I'm a cynic. But none of this takes away from the personal stories of Paul Potts and Susan Boyle, both of whom are gifted people who in pursuing their dreams have obviously inspired and touched millions of people. At the same time, I'm a little troubled by the implication that neither of them did anything worthwhile until they hit it big on YouTube and that only now have their lives taken on any meaning. There are many, many talented people in the world--people who are just as talented as these two and whose stories are just as compelling--who will never win a talent competition or make it on to YouTube, and I am inspired by them as much as by Susan Boyle, even moreso, because some of them are people I know personally and have watched day in and day out as they try to make a living and care for their families and go to church. They may not have fame, but they are every bit as admirable and inspiring as Susan Boyle and Paul Potts, and I don't have to go to the internet to see them.

I bet you have some of those people in your life, too. Next time you see them, why don't you give them a YouTube moment and let them know how special you think they are?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

New Sidebar Feature

I have added a new blog list to my sidebar. It is different from the other lists in my sidebar in that it includes a snippet of the most recent post from each of the blogs in the list. When I first created A Round Unvarnish'd Tale, this feature was not at my disposal, but even if it had been, I would not have used it for all my linked blogs because I just have too many. But I think it's a cool feature, so I have decided to use it to list some of my all-time favorites. I wanted to keep the list to about ten (as you can see, I didn't quite make it), but it was hard to narrow down, so I did so by choosing blogs that I think have the widest-ranging appeal as well as blogs that are regularly updated (every day or every few days). The one exception to the frequent updaters was my husband's blog because I am trying to encourage him to post more often! If I didn't include your blog, please don't feel bad; my plan is to periodically change the list so as to feature some different sites. (But there are several that will probably always remain.)


I am at a loss for words at President Obama's decision to release CIA memos detailing interrogation techniques used on terror suspects. Regardless of one's opinion on the techniques themselves, publicizing them to the world makes no sense at all. If Obama believes they are torture and should not be used (a view that is highly debatable), fine: issue a presidential order to that effect. But why not keep it internal? Why shout it to our enemies? What he has done is to make us more vulnerable to attack by showing a big part of our "hand" to the other side.

Here's what Charles Krauthammer had to say about Obama's action on Fox News:

I think it does harm the United States. It gives away a lot of our techniques.

And I disagree. I don't see it as a dark chapter in our history at all.

You look at some of these techniques — holding the head, a face slap, or deprivation of sleep. If that is torture, the word has no meaning.

I would concede that one technique, simulated drowning, you could call torture, even though the memos imply that legally it didn't meet that definition. I'm agnostic on the legalism….

But let's concede that it's a form of torture. I think it's perfectly reasonable to use it in two cases, that the ticking time bomb, if an innocent is at risk and you've got a terrorist that has information that would save that innocent and isn't speaking. That's an open and shut easy case.

A second case is a high-level Al Qaeda operative, a terrorist, who knows names and places and numbers and plans and safe houses and all that, and by using techniques to get information, you're saving lives.

If I have to weigh on the one hand the numberless and nameless lives saved in America by the use of these techniques, and we had a CIA director who told us that these techniques on these high-level terrorists was extremely effective in giving us information.

If you have to weigh on one hand that the numberless and nameless lives saved, against the 30 seconds or so of terror in the eyes of a terrorist who is suffering this technique, I think the moral choice is easy.

It's not a dark chapter in our history. It is a successful one. We have not had a second attack, and largely because of this.

There are many--people like Vice-President Dick Cheney and former CIA chief Scott Hayden--who say that the interrogation techniques Obama has now nullified are responsible for thwarting numerous terrorist attacks during the Bush administration--including one that would have left a hole in Los Angeles as big as the one in New York. Announcing to our enemies that we are throwing some of our best weapons out the window can only increase their resolve to go after us.

I keep telling myself that President Obama wants the best for our country and that he just has a different--and in my opinion wrong--idea of how to go about it. But actions like this--actions that seem to have no regard at all for our country's best interests--make me wonder if I'm living in denial and if have elected a man who sees the presidency not as a sacred trust but as a tool for him to get what he wants. If it truly is the latter, then the obvious question is, what does this man want? And do I really want to know the answer?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tea Parties

I didn't get to go to a tea party protest Wednesday. In addition to nursing sick children, I had to finish and mail our taxes, attend a funeral, take my son to the orthodontist, and teach piano lessons. But I was there in spirit, and I have appreciated reading articles and blog posts by those who attended and seeing photos and video coverage on television.

Unsurprisingly, however, the MSM are in general not covering the tea party protests accurately. Some outlets have portrayed the protesters as right-wing extremest fanatics and the protests as Republican propaganda. For an example, check out this post by Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake. The MSM just don't seem to get it. People are angry, and it's not just Republicans, but Democrats and Libertarians and Independents and others. And yes, they're angry at Barack Obama--he's the one in power right now--but the anger is directed not just at him. They realize the problem is systemic. But they also see him as making it infinitely worse. I think what bothers me most is how the protests are being played as only a tax revolt. I guess given that they happened on April 15 and hearken back to the revolutionaries who protested taxation without representation, I can't blame reporters for making that connection. But as Jane explains, this is about so much more than taxes. Ultimately, it's about freedom, and the fear that we have come to a place in our history where we are getting ready to lose the basic freedoms that once defined us as a nation.

One of the articles I read about the tea parties described a number of signs carried by the protesters. My favorite by far was this one:

OBAMA: One Big Awful Mistake, America.

The good news is that the ultimate power in this country still resides with the people. But it's up to them to use it. Maybe the sleeping giant is finally starting to wake up and we are seeing the beginnings of something that will lead to real hope and change rather than the narcotic version our politicians will keep pouring down our throats as long as we let them.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hand of God

I know--I said I was too busy to blog. And I am. But this is a quickie. It's an X-ray image of a pulsar recently recorded by NASA's Chandra Observatory. Isn't it stunning?

Thanks to Strange Herring for pointing my attention to this. You can read more about it here.

(By the way, the taxes are done, and one child is feeling a bit better. But the other one has gotten worse, and housework and editing still await, so I am resisting the temptation to blog about Governor Rick Perry's resolution on Texas state sovereignty and Obama's Department of Homeland Security's effort to peg principled conservatives as domestic terrorists. If you want more info on either you'll have to Google it. I'm going to go back to getting things done just in case my little guy bounces back enough for me to go to that Mamapalooza on Thursday.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Recipe for Bloglessness

Two sick children
BJS Quarterly editing way overdue
Taxes due in two days
Recovering from Easter weekend
Chess lesson tomorrow
Behind on laundry, housecleaning, and various tasks
Upcoming "Mamapalooza"
(See you in a few days. Keep basking in that Resurrection glow!)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Wrap-Up

Phew! Nine liturgies in four days, and I was at eight of them, four this morning alone! I am pooped, and I did nothing compared to the Cantor. I only had to play piano or organ on a few choir numbers (Yes, I really played organ! No feet, though). My dearest has been burning the candle at both ends for days now, rehearsing soloists and groups large and small, practicing organ, proofreading bulletins, setting up equipment, and making sure all kinds of people are in the right place at the right time. As Pastor said this morning, "Honey, I don't know how you do it." (Okay, okay, so Pastor didn't call him "Honey," but the sentiment was the same.)

I was up too late last night. We didn't get home until about 9:30, and between getting Evan settled down, doing some house tasks, setting up the coffee for the morning (can't forget the coffee!) and blogging about Easter Vigil, I didn't get to bed until about 11:30. The alarm went off at 4:45 a.m., and by 6:00 Phil, Trevor and I were en route to church for our 6:10 a.m. choir warm-up call. (Caitlin stayed home with Evan, who was picked up a few hours later by Pastor's wife; the bad news is that Caitlin is still running a fever and had to stay home.)

Services were at 6:30, 8:30, 10:00 and 11:30; the first three included adult choir and full brass, and the 11:30 service featured children's choir and youth brass. Easter breakfast was served from 7:00 to 10:00, and an Easter egg hunt was staged on the church grounds at 10:45 a.m. We were blessed with a slightly cool but beautifully sunny day for the hunt.

Here are some of the hunters waiting for the starting "gun." (Evan is in stripes in the front; notice he is the only child in short sleeves. He had a coat but his space cadet of a mom left it inside.)

The hunt is on!

Found one!

Me and the Cantor, a little bleary-eyed after a long morning, but still not looking too bad if I do say so myself.

It was a stunning morning. The choirs and musicians outdid themselves, but far more important, the Easter Gospel was read and preached and the Lord's faithful fed at His table. From where I sat, there were only two downsides to the day. One, already mentioned, was that my daughter did not get to attend any Easter services. She came down with a fever Friday night and in fact sang her solo (see Good Friday post) while rapidly going down hill. She has been in bed ever since. When I called her from church this morning to check in, she started crying on the phone, devastated that she was missing worship this weekend, of all weekends. She wanted to run, like Peter and John, to the tomb to find her Lord! I told her that whether she was at church or home in bed, she could rejoice that Christ is risen! She responded as Christians throughout the ages always have: "He is risen indeed! Alleluia!"

The second not merely sad but tragic event was the death of one of our congregation's elders on Good Friday. He was only 42 years old and had suffered for years from a tumor pressing on his spine. Even people in our congregation who did not know him well recognized him as the smiling sacristan that did not let the need for a cane prevent him from assisting with Communion. Neil was one of those people whose cheerful outlook in the face of great adversity is an example of faith for us all. Over the years he experienced several periods of responsiveness to treatment, but finally the cancer was responsive no more, and Neil went to be with his Savior. He is survived by his wife Holly and an 8-year-old daughter, Laura.

The moment of Neil's death came during the Communion liturgy of our Friday afternoon service; when I heard a bell ringing during the Words of Institution I had a flashback to my Roman Catholic days, when bells ringing during Communion were a matter of course. This bell, however, was Pastor's cell phone, which he had forgotten to turn off before church. I can't help wondering if the Holy Spirit had a hand in that oversight. It turned out the call was from Holly, letting Pastor know that Neil's earthly battle was over. There were many tears shed this morning as news of Neil's death spread, but they were tears not just of grief but also of great joy, for there is no doubt in the mind of anyone who knew this steadfast layman that he is today enjoying eternity with his Father in heaven. And because of Jesus' victory on the cross, we who cling to that cross can join Neil and all the saints in heaven and on earth in saying, "Oh grave, where is thy victory? Oh death, where is thy sting?"

We got home at about 1:30. Lunch was frozen pizza. Then the grown-ups enjoyed a nap. Now I am enjoying the sounds of Evan and his dad having a water gun fight in the back yard. Does it get any better? To all my readers: a most blessed Easter season to you. And to think the celebration has just begun!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Vigil

Here are a couple of short videos from our Easter Vigil tonight. These are as much for my daughter as for anyone--she came down with a fever today and had to stay home. She loves the Easter Vigil, so missing it was quite a blow. We are praying she will be well enough to attend Divine Service tomorrow.

In the first video you will hear part of a setting of the First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12) sung responsively by choir and congregation and accompanied by accordion, guitar and percussion. (You can't drag the organ and piano outside, you know?) The worshipers have gathered around a fire outside the front door of the church to witness the lighting of the Paschal candle; having left in darkness on Good Friday, they return in darkness tonight, holding individual candles lit from the same fire as the Paschal candle as they process in to the sanctuary.

The little head you see bobbing into view from time to time is Evan, my five-year-old; his is also the voice that my cell phone recorder picks up quite clearly on the word "salvation."

The second video is of our pastor and men's chorus chanting the Exultet. The setting was composed by my husband; you can read the text here. My oldest son is singing tenor. I apologize for the occasional jumpiness of the camera, but I was somewhat distracted: I was trying to videotape unobtrusively while simultaneously managing a five-year-old holding a lit candle in church. I was glad when it was time to blow that candle out!

See You at the Party

In addition to the Tenebrae, our congregation has an afternoon Good Friday service. It is not technically a Tre Ore ("Three Hours") service because it does not start at noon and end at 3:00. It is also not three hours long, but it does have many of the elements of the Tre Ore (the reading of the Passion narrative, and the Bidding Prayer, for example). The service is held at 4:00 p.m.; from 12:00 until 3:00 our pastors are available for individual Confession and Absolution.

I normally attend the Tenebrae rather than the afternoon service because that's where I am needed to serve as a musician. And although I might personally choose to attend both services, asking young children to do so is pressing my luck. So I have not always attended the afternoon service. But yesterday I did, and now I don't think I will ever want to miss it again (and since my last baby is now 5 years old, I don't think I'll have to). I don't know why--maybe I am just finally growing up--but I have never been more engaged in the reading of the Passion than I was yesterday afternoon. It was broken into segments and interspersed with stanzas of "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" and was followed by a homily during which Pastor pointed us to the various parts of Jesus' body and how they received the punishment that should have been ours. Then we sang, "Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted," the final two stanzas of which speak Law and Gospel as clearly as anything I can think of:

Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
'Tis the Word, the Lord's anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost:
Christ the Rock of our salvation,
Is the name of which we boast;
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.

By the end of the hymn I felt as though I could look Satan himself in the eye and without flinching tell the old buzzard to "Get lost! I have Jesus on my side!"

Of course I couldn't have. Not of my own power, anyway. And neither can you. But we who wear the name of Jesus may boast indeed, because it is He who stands between us and Satan and who in our stead 2000 years ago told Satan to "Get lost!" And He continues to do so today and every day in a million different ways, each time we flee to Him who is our refuge.

It is finished. The battle is won. I'm going to the victory celebration.

Are you?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

The video below is of approximately the last five minutes of our Tenebrae service tonight. It begins with a whispered Lord's Prayer, continues to the strepitus, and concludes with a young soprano* singing a cappella the second stanza of Paul Gerhardt's hymn, "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth." The strepitus at our service is the most extended one I have ever experienced and signifies the shaking of the earth and splitting of rocks described in Matthew 27. It is accomplished by the playing of one or more timpani, beginning as a low and distant rumble and gradually crescendoing to a thundrous and deafening climax, representing the closing of Jesus's tomb. Prior to the strepitus the final candles are extinguished and the Christ candle removed, so much of this video is in darkness. A little over halfway, however, the Christ candle returns, pointing us towards the Resurrection, and these words are heard:

This Lamb is Christ, the soul's great friend,
The Lamb of God, our Savior,
Whom God the Father chose to send
To gain for us His favor.
"Go forth, My Son," the Father said,
"And free my children from their dread
Of guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by Your passion they will share
The fruit of Your salvation."
(Lutheran Service Book 438)

*named Caitlin

Raising Them Right

I had to smile about this last night. For the first time in quite a while I sang with the choir (the women's chorus in the previous post). Of course, I didn't sing on "Lamb of God" (that would have been quite a trick!), but I did on three other selections (settings of Psalm 116 by Henry Gerike, the verse by Bruce Backer, and "Jesus, I Will Ponder Now" by Hugo Distler). I generally don't sing with the choir because 1) I am the choir accompanist, 2) I am married to the cantor (who usually doesn't get to sit with the family), and 3) my oldest son also sings with the choir. So that leaves my daughter alone in the pew with her little brother, and although she is quite capable of chaperoning him, I think at this point in time it is more important for me to sit with them than to sing in a choir that has plenty of altos.

But last night my husband was not the organist for the service. So he sat with the family and I sat (and sang) with the women's chorus (a treat because it also meant I got to worship for the entire service without interruption!). When the women walked in wearing choir robes and Evan saw me in their midst his face registered clear surprise and he smiled excitedly and waved. I felt like a kid in a school play trying to keep character while acknowledging my proud family members in the front row. After the service, he exclaimed, clearly impressed, "Mommy, you sang with the choir! I didn't know you could do that!"

Now this is a child who sees me play the piano in church week after week and who has even seen me sing the occasional solo. But this--this was special--this was THE CHOIR! And they were wearing ROBES!

I think he has the right idea, don't you?

Lamb of God

Women's Chorus of Bethany Lutheran Church, Naperville, Illinois
Maundy Thursday Service, April 9, 2009

The sound quality leaves a bit to be desired. I didn't want to distract worshipers, so I recorded this from the back of the sanctuary with my cell phone. And you can't see the choir because the congregation is standing. But I think the result is beautiful nonetheless. The soloist is a gifted soprano with extensive performance experience who has sung with the likes of Marvin Hamlisch. (And yes, we are truly blessed to have her as a member of our choir and congregation!)

Lamb of God, pure and holy, who on the cross didst suffer,
Ever patient and lowly, Thyself to scorn didst offer.
All sins Thou borest for us, else had despair reigned o'er us.
Have mercy on us, O Jesus!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Great Three Days

Today begins the Triduum, the three days leading up to Easter and comprised of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil (or as I learned to call it in my Roman Catholic days, Holy Saturday). I love this time of the church year not only for the obvious reason--its centrality to my Christian faith--but also for some more selfish reasons. At least in our family, it is a celebration that comes without a lot of worldly trappings and temptations. There are no cards to send, no shopping to do, no decorations to put up, no presents to wrap, and no holiday parties to attend. Oh, we do try to have a special Easter dinner, but if finances allow we go out to do it. And we do leave a gift for each of our children to find on Easter morning. But it's modest compared to what they receive at Christmas, and it doesn't come from the Easter bunny. I have thought in the past about sending out Easter cards--isn't Easter, after all, THE culmination of God's promise to His children? If ever there were a day to celebrate by sending cards to Christian friends, it seems this is it. But I have never really seriously considered it, especially since I do well to get the Christmas cards done each year. And while I might try to find something special with which to adorn the table or entry way of our home--maybe setting out some fresh cut flowers or spring-themed knick-knacks, for example--that's the extent of my Easter decorating (if I even do that).

So instead of getting caught up in the trappings, as I am wont to do at Christmas, and instead of getting stressed out as a result of all those trappings, I find myself going into the Great Three Days with a sense of calm and focus. I can call off school and not feel guilty about it. Even with the increased rehearsals and services that make heavy demands on this family of musicians, today I feel not that life is accelerating beyond my control but that it is slowing down, allowing me time to reflect and pray. For the next three days everything else will fade into the background while the central focus of each day is the evening worship service that will once again relate the greatest love story ever told.

I plan over the next three days to post some musical excerpts from the Triduum services at my parish. I hope you'll stop back by.

"My song is love unknown,
My Savior's love to me,
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.
Oh, who am I
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh and die.
Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine!
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend!"

("My Song Is Love Unknown," Stanzas 1 & 7, Lutheran Service Book 430)

I Hope He's Wrong

Farewell to Zion - Cliff Thier (From American Thinker)

This is one of the saddest and scariest things I have read in a long time. (I guess that's not really the best way to get you to read it, huh?) It's an article by an American Jewish lawyer in Connecticut who argues on this Passover Day that the nation of Israel will soon be a mere hiccup in history. A few excerpts:

"It seems clear as can be. You'd have to be a fool, willfully blind, an American Jew even, not to see it.

Israel has no other options. If there is to be an Israel two years from now, it must flatten the Iranian nuclear program immediately.

I'm afraid, terrified, that it is already too late. Time has run out. The end of the Jewish state is closing in. And there is nothing that can be done to save it. Thoughts will all too soon turn to saving and resettling the six million Jews who now live there."

"Israel knows it must do take out the nuclear weapons capability of Iran. And yet, Israel will not be able to do it. Not because it doesn't have the military might to do so. And not because it lacks the will. But because Barack Obama will order the United States Air Force to stand in its way if it tries. Between the airfields of Israel and the reactors and research labs and storage facilities of Iran sit the armed forces of the United States and its hundreds of planes, missiles and radar. With our bases in Iraq and those floating in the Persian Gulf, the United States separates Israel and Iran. Obama would have to give his okay for Israel to pass. Obama will not.

In fact, he will have the United States erect an armed barrier to Israel."

"Still, if that is not enough for you, then think of Obama's trip abroad last week. Anyone with any doubt that America's friendships have changed need only look at the photograph of Obama bowing before the robed medieval autocrat running the regime called Saudi Arabia (you will have to look on the Internet because the major dailies, news magazines and broadcast networks refuse to show this photo to you). . . .

Bowing is not a greeting exchanged between equals in the Saudi's world. It is an acknowledgment by the person bowing that he is inferior to the person receiving the bow. Unreciprocated bowing is an act of supplication. An act whereby subjects pledge loyalty before their king. No president before Obama ever bowed before a foreign leader, let alone an absolute monarch and guardian of Mecca and Medina."

"Israel was our old friend. Yesterday's friend. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia -- the property of the Saud family -- is our new friend. Things change. Obama has made his choice. Obama has made our choice for us. He has made America's choice. And made it in the open and clearly enough even for the willfully blind -- that is, American Jews -- to see."

"And, centuries from now, if there are still Jews, and if they still have Passover Seders, they will speak of that last chapter for the Jews when -- for only 64 years -- Jews lived and governed themselves in the land of Israel. The years when they were not unwanted guests in other people's houses. . . .

Those of us who helped bring the end of Israel to pass, can asked God's forgiveness every year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. And, on every Passover, we can all hold hands and recite the Kaddish for the nation of Israel that once was.

We should all begin to prepare ourselves for that day. It's almost here."

The middle section of the article, from which I did not quote, provides a detailed outline of how Mr. Thier believes this scenario will come to pass. I hope and pray Mr. Thier is wrong.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Death and Life

My five-year-old (that angel face in the previous post) has been thinking about death a lot lately, probably due in large part to losing his granddad last month. He has expressed the wish that he could go to heaven without having to die (we have told him that if Jesus comes back in his lifetime he might just get to). He has reacted to people or situations that make him angry or upset by saying, "I want to die!" or "You want me to die!" He has been asking a lot of questions about other people he loves, wondering particularly how his grandmas are doing and if they're getting better. I think he fears losing someone else.

Last night he was feeling lonely and having trouble sleeping, so I lay down with him in his bed for a while. We chatted about everyday things and finally he was quiet. Then out of nowhere he asked,

"Jesus came to earth so that He could DIE?"

Isn't it amazing how children can sometimes just get at the essence of a thing? I replied,

"Yes, honey, He did. He came to die for us, to pay the punishment for our sins."

A moment of silence, and then,

"That's sad."

I agreed that it was very sad. But thanks be to God I was able to immediately follow that sadness up with joy, pointing Evan to the happiest day, the Feast of the Resurrection this Sunday, when we go to the tomb and find that it is empty!

But first we must walk with our Lord the Way of the Cross, watching as He prays in the garden and is handed over to suffer and die for sinners such as we. As we walk that lonely road this week, again coming face to face with the horror of our sin, may we keep our eyes fixed on the Christ, remembering that yes, He came to earth to die, but that the story doesn't end there. I'm going to stick around for the final chapter, and I pray you do, too.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My Favorite Time of Day

I am a morning person, otherwise known as a "lark." Morning is when I am at peak energy, both physically and mentally. Even when I try to sleep in, I find it hard to do so--the sun wakes up, and so do I. And I enjoy the morning hours immensely--they are my thinking and reflecting time and provide the quietness I need to get the day started out right.

My five-year-old is an "owl"--if left to his own body rhythm he would gladly stay up past 11:00 p.m. and sleep until 10:00 a.m. in the morning. Since he does not have a reason that he must wake up early, I don't see a need to impose a different schedule. So when I have reached the end of my day, usually around 9:30 p.m., I have him get ready for bed. Then after stories and prayer I kiss him good night and retire, giving him permission to continue playing in his room until he is ready to sleep. Still, if he gets too far off the rest of the family's timetable we run into conflicts. So if he is not up by 9:00 a.m. in the morning (which is most of the time), I wake him up. Then I get to enjoy this:

There is nothing like watching a sleeping child wake up. The tiniest motion of a pinky finger . . . the flicker of an eyelash or twitch of a nostril . . . the little yawns and breaths and baby sounds . . . and finally, the stretching, opening of eyes and smile . . . all followed by 5-10 minutes of cuddles. It's times like this that I most deeply count the blessings of motherhood. And the fact that I get to enjoy this after I have had several hours of peace and quiet makes it even better! I'll miss these days when they're gone.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Supper Last Night

It was one of those throw-together things. I hadn't thawed anything and was short on time so had to come up with something to eat out of what was on hand in the refrigerator. So I cracked and beat six eggs, added a package of frozen spinach (I thawed and drained it first) and about half a bag of frozen hash browns (also thawed and drained), seasoned with salt and pepper and baked in a casserole dish (I think at 350) for about 20-25 minutes. Then I covered the top with grated Swiss cheese and baked another 15 or so minutes (until cheese was thoroughly melted). It came out great and we ate it garnished with sour cream and tomatoes. Yum!

We decided to call it SPEC (for spinach, potatoes, eggs and cheese). But maybe I stumbled on something that has a real name. Anybody out there know? A frittata, maybe? Or something else? Help me out, cooks!

Easter Dress

Jane blogged about her Easter dress, so I thought I would, too. I purchased it mail order from Coldwater Creek a few weeks ago with a gift certificate that our adult choir gave me for Christmas. (Thanks again, choir!!) Here's the description from the website: "Graceful, fluid and flurried with soft dots. This willowy dress flows from a sculpted bodice with raised waist and softly gathered sash caught by a covered buckle. Invisible back zip. Lined bodice. Rayon, dry clean."

What do you think?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Have They Lost Their Minds?

Who in the world would spend good money on this? Even if I liked the guy (which I don't), I would find this to be a complete waste of funds, not to mention ridiculous-looking and insulting to its subject. *

And no, this is not some sort of joke or parody. It's real--click here and here to see for yourself. According to the Seattle Times, the president of Joseph Enterprises (the company behind Chia pets, the "Clapper" and other must-own items) says that at first he was dubious about the idea of a "Chia Obama" but eventually caught the spirit. Moreover, he says initial reports suggest a high level of consumer interest.

You know, some days I feel like I'm not even from this planet, it's so alien to me.

*But then, I think the whole Chia concept is unbelievably gauche. So maybe I'm not a good judge.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

At Last

My husband and I "celebrated" our 22nd wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago. I put the word "celebrated" in quotation marks because in truth we didn't actually get to celebrate. On the actual date of our anniversary we weren't even in the same city, as he was chaperoning my son at a chess tournament in St. Louis. And for months now there has just been too much going on in both our nuclear and extended families to allow us the luxury of a night out.

This past weekend, though, we made up for the lack of couple time in recent months by going out on a date. And not just any date--a 24-hour one! At about 3:00 on Monday afternoon we waved good-bye to our children (the oldest of whom is almost 17) and disappeared, leaving them with the laptop, frozen pizza and the run of the house (and instructions to call us on the cell phone if they needed advice or assistance).

First stop: coffee (what else?) and cookies at Starbuck's. Then it was on to the Volkswagen dealer to drop off my Eurovan for a full inside and out detail. We have never gotten one before, but after 85,000 miles, 6 years of Chicago winters and multiple cross-country trips, it was time.

Next, we checked in at our local Americinn hotel, which was to be our home base for the next 24 hours. We had reserved a whirlpool room, but when the desk manager discovered it was our anniversary he upgraded us to their nicest accommodations--a suite with whirlpool and fireplace--for no additional charge. He also put us down for late checkout the next day. :-) Now that's what I call customer service! (Thanks, Jim at Americinn!)

We enjoyed the room for a little while, watched Fox News, and then headed out to do some shopping. So where does a wife drag her husband when she finally has him all to herself? Ikea, of course! (He looks a little worried, doesn't he?)

We had decided to forego individual gifts and instead buy something on the house wish list, settling on a new computer desk. Here's the old setup. It was crowded, cluttered, and although you can't tell from this photo, the desk itself--cheap, painted particle board--was scratched and worn and downright ugly.

Here's the new setup. The desk, in case you're interested, is the "Fredrik" model from Ikea. I assembled it myself! Better, no?

For supper, we indulged in some Mongolian barbecue. Then after a long & loud sleep, we stepped out for breakfast at a local Mexican grill (the Americinn breakfast was less than appealing). After a 1:00 checkout, it was on to Hobby Lobby (can you believe it? First Ikea, then Hobby Lobby?) for a little window shopping and a craft purchase for my daughter. Finally, masculinity prevailed and we wrapped up our shopping at Best Buy, departing with a new printer and empire-building computer game. Before we returned home, however, more coffee was consumed, this time at Caribou.

There was more to the date than this, but the rest is for me to know and you not to find out. A girl has to have her secrets, after all. I will say that I wish we could do this once a month. As much as I love my home and children and life, it is very hard to find the time and quiet to relax to the extent that this getaway allowed. And as good as it is to go out on a 3-hour date, it's not the same. Sometimes, with the getting ready and making arrangements and not getting enough sleep, it can seem like just another item on the task list ("Date with husband." "Check."). But 24 hours means plenty of time not only to recreate but also just to talk and sleep and feel truly rested.

The children never called--they did fine, as we expected they would. We did check on them once. How nice to have teenagers to watch the 5-year-old!

So, honey, I know we can't afford this every month. Not even every three months. But maybe twice a year? What are you doing the last weekend of September?

Happy anniversary to us.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Well, if he must spend more money, it might as well be on something I support!

President Obama's budget to substantially increase funding for chess education and promotion. Read more here.


And Then There's This

Speaking of fascism, consider this:

"A lawyer involved with legal action against Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) told a House Judiciary subcommittee on March 19 The New York Times had killed a story in October that would have shown a close link between ACORN, Project Vote and the Obama campaign because it would have been a 'a game changer.'” (Source)

And then go read some more about Mussolini at Wikipedia, where you will find observations such as these:

"As dictator of Italy, Mussolini's foremost priority was the subjugation of the minds of the Italian people and the use of propaganda to do so; whether at home or abroad, and here his training as a journalist was invaluable. Press, radio, education, films—all were carefully supervised to create the illusion that fascism was the doctrine of the twentieth century, replacing liberalism and democracy."

"All teachers in schools and universities had to swear an oath to defend the fascist regime. Newspaper editors were all personally chosen by Mussolini and no one who did not possess a certificate of approval from the fascist party could practice journalism. These certificates were issued in secret; Mussolini thus skillfully created the illusion of a 'free press'. The trade unions were also deprived of any independence and were integrated into what was called the "corporative" system. The aim (never completely achieved), inspired by medieval guilds, was to place all Italians in various professional organizations or 'corporations', all of which were under clandestine governmental control."

"Mussolini launched several public construction programs and government initiatives throughout Italy to combat economic setbacks or unemployment levels. . . . He also combated an economic recession by introducing the 'Gold for the Fatherland' initiative, by encouraging the public to voluntarily donate gold jewelery such as necklaces and wedding rings to government officials in exchange for steel wristbands bearing the words 'Gold for the Fatherland.' . . ."

"Mussolini pushed for government control of business: by 1935, Mussolini claimed that three quarters of Italian businesses were under state control. That same year, he issued several edicts to further control the economy, including forcing all banks, businesses, and private citizens to give up all their foreign-issued stocks and bonds to the Bank of Italy. In 1938, he also instituted wage and price controls.[31] He also attempted to turn Italy into a self-sufficient autarky, instituting high barriers on trade with most countries except Germany."

"After the March on Rome that brought Benito Mussolini to power, the Fascists started considering ways to ideologize the Italian society, with an accent on schools. Mussolini assigned former ardito and deputy-secretary for Education Renato Ricci the task of 'reorganizing the youth from a moral and physical point of view'. Ricci sought inspiration with Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, meeting with him in England, as well as with Bauhaus artists in Germany.The Opera Nazionale Balilla was created through Mussolini's decree of April 3 1926, and was led by Ricci for the following eleven years. It included children between the ages of 8 and 18, grouped as the Balilla and the Avanguardisti."

Okay, I'm done. Time to go back in to denial mode and pretend all of this isn't happening. Heard any good jokes or seen any good movies lately?

What is this guy drinking?

Did you hear about this? Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner--the man whose job it supposedly is to defend the American dollar--last week expressed "openness" to the idea of a global currency. He later backed off the remark, but the damage was done.

It's things like this that make people like me worry that we're going to a place now in this country from which it will be very hard to return.

Wild Thought

You know, if we're gonna have fascism (and make no mistake, that's what we have now--if you doubt it, read this), why can't we have a little legislated morality and nationalistic pride to go along with the economic oppresssion? Might as well go all the way with it and clean up the culture and strengthen our military while we're at it.

Here's even more about fascism from the "horse's mouth" (Benito Mussolini). It's chilling how much of it applies to the United States today.