". . . 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)

Monday, November 30, 2009

If the Name Fits . . .

For the last few months Evan has been learning the Ten Commandments. Today we studied the 8th Commandment: "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." Big words for a 6-year-old. So we talked about the meanings of "false" and "testimony" and "neighbor" as well as "honesty." Then we read the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree as an example of telling the truth even when it's hard to do so.

Evan does not take well to having his stories picked for him. He likes to pick his own. So I typically make a "deal" with him: I'll pick one and then you can pick one. Today after we read about George Washington he picked another story from the same book (the Children's Book of Virtues, edited by Bill Bennett). This one was the tale of St. George and the Dragon.

Tonight, wanting to show off what we had done in "school" today I asked Evan to tell his dad what he had learned and he quickly answered "the 8th commandment" and with a little help recited the same. Then I asked him to tell his dad what story we had read. He couldn't quite remember, so I prompted him: "It was about our first president. Remember? What was his name?"

His eyes lighting up, Evan turned to his dad with a smile and announced, "We read about Saint George Washington!"

To Whom It May Concern

My wish list has been updated and prioritized. ☺

Friday, November 27, 2009

We Really Did It

And it wasn't so bad. Sort of fun, actually--made us feel young and adventurous.

We decided the night before that we didn't need to get in line early because the item(s) we were interested in were not "doorbusters" for which tickets would be handed out. So we set the alarm for 4:15 and after throwing on clothes and brushing hair and teeth (at least I think I brushed my teeth--if not, sorry, Mr. Salesman!) fueled up with coffee and leftover cranberry-apple pie before leaving the house a few minutes before 5:00 a.m. Destination: our local Best Buy, just around the corner. We passed Target on the way and sure enough, there they were, the Black Friday hordes, extending the full length of the front of the store. I was amazed by the amount of traffic and the full parking lots at this time of the morning, but it was kind of fun to be in the thick of it. For today at least, we too belonged to the Black Friday Brotherhood.

Here was the scene as we drove up to Best Buy. I thought that, being more of a specialty store, it might be less crowded than Target or Wal-Mart, but the line was comparable (the picture only shows a small segment of it). Doors were being unlocked as we arrived, and by the time we had parked and crossed the lot, the line had dispersed and we walked right in.

First stop: electronics, to replace our current television (see previous post). The television that had drawn us to the store was there for the taking, but we ended up getting a slightly larger and higher resolution set, also for a very good price. A bit more than we intended to spend, but hey, we've had a hard year, you know? Call it our Christmas gift to ourselves.

Next stop: appliances. We have also been needing a new refrigerator and had seen one in the Black Friday ad for $599--a Samsung side-by-side, 25 cu. feet, black, with through-the-door water and ice, regularly $999. Compared to the rest of the store, the appliance department was pretty quiet--just a few other customers besides us. But no salesmen to take our order! Finally one arrived, only to inform us that the inventory/delivery system had crashed and he would have to take hand orders. We bought the refrigerator but so did a bunch of other people across the country as well as the nice lady in line ahead of us. We'll find out later if we were high enough in the queue to actually get one of the units before the inventory ran out. Sigh. Wish us luck.

(Update: Best Buy just called. We have our fridge! Or will when it's delivered later this week.)

Here's the checkout area as we were leaving the store at about 6:30 a.m.--thank goodness we didn't have to deal with this crowd since we had already paid for our items in appliances.

After a stop at the grocery store, we were home before 7:00, thinking we would get the new TV set up as a surprise for the kids and then go back to sleep for a nice long morning nap. You would think two fairly bright, college educated types would be able to knock down this task in a matter of minutes. You would think.

But by this time the coffee was starting to wear off, and fatigue was setting in, and my dearest and I found ourselves strangers in a strange land, lost in a blur of cords and cardboard and styrofoam and a heretofore unknown tongue: " . . . connect one end of the coaxial cable to the RF-out jack above the HDMI2 saturation plug next to the RF-in video input contrast source, tightening the VGA connectors and being careful not to drop the whole stupid mess on the floor . . . . and if you need help, be sure to call the customer service number in the manual, which will not connect you to our customer service at all but instead to some other pathetic outfit that is going to have a long, miserable year because their number was incorrectly printed in our 2009 manual . . . . "

I did have to laugh when the "initial setup screen" came on:

I think the writers of the setup instructions were no more familiar with English than we were with HDTV-ese. I guess maybe the exclamation points are an effort to remind us of how we felt when we first got home? You know, before we opened the box?

It took several hours, but finally . . . finally, we ended up with this.

And the frosting on the cake? The Huskers won!

I don't think we will make Black Friday shopping an annual event, but would I do it again? Yes. It was worth it, more for the refrigerator (40% off is not typical!) than for the television (we could have probably gotten a comparable deal next week). And notwithstanding some of the Black Friday horror stories of the last few years, it wasn't unpleasant at all. The store was well-prepared for the crowd and we saw no one behaving badly. In fact, there was an odd sort of cameraderie among the shoppers as we shared the insanity of it all and pulled for each other to get the deals we had come for. And the best part? My husband and I had more silly fun together than we have had in a while.

I hope your Friday after Thanksgiving was as rewarding as mine and that you, too, got to spend it laughing with someone you love.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

We're Really Gonna Do It

For the first time ever in our married life, my husband and I are going to shop on Black Friday.

Here's why:

A few months ago our television fell off its stand (I know you're wondering how that happened, but let's not go there). The picture has looked like this ever since. We don't watch a lot of television, so we weren't motivated to replace it right away. But several times over the past few months we have considered watching a movie only to reconsider after remembering our unit's current resemblance to a bowl of Fruit Loops. We also use the TV for educational purposes--instructional videos for French and history--and we have continued to watch those in spite of the decidedly hallucinogenic element. But I have been procrastinating showing several historical movies I would like the kids to see. The Salem witchcraft trials are disturbing enough in realistic hues--I don't think I'm ready to see Giles Corey under a pile of pink, blue, and yellow rocks.

Ultimately, though, we might go on like this indefinitely if not for the premiere of the final season of Lost, which will take place on February 2. We have very few things that we do for pure recreation, but this is one, and we have waited almost a year for it. Of course February is several months away, but we have seen ads for 32-inch LCD HD television sets for as low as $248 on Black Friday. We're not picky--that will do for our needs--and we're thinking the deals may not get much better, so a little before 5:00 a.m. Friday morning the hubby and I will drag ourselves out of bed, throw back some coffee, and join the ranks of the Desperately Seeking Bargains. With any luck we'll be home with our new acquisition in time to go back to bed for a few hours before breakfast.

So . . . any Black Friday pros out there who want to offer some shopping advice to us inexperienced newbies? Things to do and not do? Ways of increasing the likelihood of success? Pitfalls to avoid? We're all ears!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Please tell me you're not getting this . . .

. . . for the little girl on your Christmas list:

Barbie in a burqa (burkha?)

Call me old-fashioned, but what ever happened to easy bake ovens and dolls that pee?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

We're back . . .

. . . but we're drained. Of the last six days, four were spent on the road, while two were spent burying my mother-in-law. Such a trip would be totalizing under the best of circumstances.

Let me assure you, these were not the best of circumstances.

There is a famous poem, frequently anthologized, by the Imagist poet William Carlos Williams. Here it is quoted in its entirety:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I have a red wheelbarrow. And so much has depended on it for so long that sometimes I worry it is about to give out. I know that many of you reading have prayed often for my wheelbarrow--not to mention those noisy, fussy chickens that are always hanging around it--over this past year. Believe me when I say that your prayers have carried it through in ways you can't begin to know and I can't begin to share--at least not here. For that I thank you sincerely as I likewise pray that the wheelbarrows of each of your lives are never loaded beyond what they can rightly bear.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"A time that has all but gone"

Things may be a bit quieter at A Round Unvarnish'd Tale this week. My mother-in-law died Thursday night. We leave tomorrow after church to spend the week in Texas.

My father-in-law died earlier this year. It hasn't even been nine months yet. But here my husband is again, not only attending, but officiating at, the funeral of a parent.

My husband says the James Taylor song "Letter in the Mail" has been running through his head this morning.

Goodbye, Mom and Dad, and rest in peace. Thank you for the greatest earthly gift anyone has ever given me, your son, my husband.

Lanell & Ed, 1957

Lanell & Ed, 2007

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Forrest Gump

Sometimes I teasingly call my husband Forrest Gump because he always seems to be showing up wherever news is happening. Here he goes again, getting interviewed by religion writer Terry Mattingly for the Scripps-Howard News Service:

Lutherans and the Worship Wars

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


From time to time some of my blogging friends post a round-up of a typical day. I haven't done it in a while, so here goes, in probably more detail than anyone cares to read. I can't help it. "Thorough" is my middle name.

5:00 Alarm. Snooze for 10 minutes, then up and at 'em. Sick 6-year-old hears me and calls; spend 15 minutes tending to him. Make coffee. Check email. Pour coffee. More email, blogs, headlines, Facebook. Cake for breakfast. Shower and get ready for work. Chat with husband on way out the door.

7:00 Drive to work. Listen to Don Wade and Roma interviewing Bill Kristol, then New Testament on tape, Matthew 12 & 13. Arrive at school, accompany freshman girls' chorus, have interesting discussion with choir and orchestra teachers about writing, English teaching, Strunk & White, George Orwell, and the TV series Glee (which I have not seen but which, from my colleagues' description, is no friend to music education or traditional values).

9:30. Leave work early to get home to sick child. Drive to junior college to pick up Trevor from math. Listen to Mancow and Cassidy interviewing the guy who wrote the article about the new series V being an allegory on the Obama administration. He says the former director has been fired and the show is going on hiatus to be retooled despite excellent ratings for the pilot. Hmmm, wonder why?

10:00 Pick up Trevor, who smilingly tells of his statistics teacher ranting against universal health care, the Great Society and the New Deal. ☺ Yes, there are some bright spots in academia. Discuss career/college options with Trevor on the drive home. Get home, check on Evan. 102 fever, Caitlin has given Motrin. No kindergarten today, student is still sick. Help Evan move to rec room sofa and watch Tom and Jerry DVD with him while checking email. DVD over, time to start lunch.

11:45 Lunch (fish sandwich) with Evan and Caitlin (Trevor is deep into chess study). Load and start dishwasher. Watch last 15 minutes of The Young and the Restless while tidying up bedroom. Wish Eric Braeden had not had a contract dispute and left the show. Pick up house, gather dirty clothes, fold towels, move socks to dryer, start another load. Call 5:30 piano student to see if she can come earlier since 4:00 student cancelled.

12:50 Turn on Fox News. Hillary's giving a speech at the Berlin Wall celebration. Turn it off. Maybe a nap? First Caitlin needs help with a math problem. Check on Evan. Playing quietly with drawing board--Motrin must be kicking in. Still thinking about that nap. Lie down & hope.

1:10 No nap. Evan's calling. Go see what he needs. He wants "Troll Attack" book he got for his birthday. Can't find book. Instead help him to start putting together castle Lego set he got for birthday. Help Caitlin with another math problem.

1:30 Lego set only halfway done, but need to leave to take Caitlin to day school for junior high choir, after school choir, and Mentor Night. Drop off Caitlin, go to allergist to get shot. Darn--meant to listen to last 10 minutes of Rush's show. Too late now. At doctor's office, push button to ride elevator but change mind and take stairs. Might be the only exercise I get all day. After shot, stop by Trader Joe's to pick up a few things on the way home. Business is brisk today! Stop at coffee bar for free sample. Do a little shopping, go back for another free sample. Do a little more shopping, resist urge to go back for a third free sample. Check out and head home. On the way listen to Roe Conn interview Pete Roskam about health care.*

3:00 Home. Check on Evan. Yay, Trevor helped him finish putting together Lego set. He is still doing okay, playing with his DS. Put away groceries, wash some dishes, take socks out of dryer and switch wet clothes over. Go outside to check mail--wow, it's getting cooler! Work on blog post and read & answer email. Teach piano students--only two since other two cancelled today.

6:00 No time to cook, must take Trevor to church for Mentor Night (high school youth mentoring Confirmation students). Drive through Taco Bell and get supper for everyone. Only $10.85! Drop off Trevor and food. Go back home and eat supper with Evan. More Tom & Jerry and computer time over a glass of Charles Shaw Shiraz. Glad I stopped at Trader Joe's!

8:30 Fever's up, time for more Motrin, stories, prayers. Feel better, honey. Chat with husband and teenagers, who have returned home from church. Get ready for bed. Sit in bed with husband watching the premier episode of V online. Yay, we can watch the next installment tomorrow night! Toward the end of the show, Evan calls. What's the matter, honey? Lonely. Promise to go back and lie down with him in 10 minutes when show is over.

11:00 Fall asleep with Evan while listening to Trevor practice the third movement of the second Rachmaninoff piano concerto.

Sometimes I wonder why I don't get more done. Looking back over this day there's so much that wasn't there (like piano practicing, personal reading, and more involvement in my teenagers' studies). But then I look at everything I did do. It was a lot. And not every day is like this. For example, tomorrow and Wednesday there are no classes at the high school. Yay! Two mornings at home! Maybe we'll start that new readaloud . . .

*All of these shows are broadcast on the Chicago talk station, WLS. I do like WLS, but one of the reasons I am listening to it so much these days is that the antenna on my van is broken (car wash) and it is one of the few stations I can get.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Today . . .

. . . is the 20th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The city will host an enormous, all day celebration to mark the event. Attending will be German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Hillary Clinton will also be there. Barack Obama will not.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ahoy, Matey!

Ten days ago my baby had his sixth birthday. We didn't have the party until today, which is a good thing considering that he was running a 103 fever on his birthday!

It was kind of a thrown together thing. I didn't get invitations in the mail in time so had to resort to emailing and phoning the guests. I didn't reserve the fellowship hall until a few weeks ago, but luckily it was still available. I didn't have a particular theme in mind but just went to the party store looking for some generic decorations. (Evan is not much into any certain character or trademark.) The one thing I knew I wanted was a pinata, per Evan's request.

We ended up with a pirate party, and what a blast it was! I haven't been to such a fun kids' birthday party in a long time. Who needs Chuck E. Cheese?

The festivities began with a little sword play.

En garde! (Do pirates say that?)

It appears there's not a great deal of difference between boys of 6 and those of 17. At least not when it comes to swords.

Uh-oh! Man down!

Or is he just playing possum?

Next, the egg relay race.

Even the mommies faced off.

Of course, what is an old-fashioned birthday party without a rollicking round of musical chairs? Accompaniment was courtesy of the Cantor, who provided music determined by the participants as they took turns calling out a number between 331 and 924. (Anyone out there wanna guess what the numbers signified?)

The game begins!

Down to three!
We have a winner! (The two finalists are brothers.)

Finally . . . what is a pirate party without a treasure chest?

After the smaller pirates took their shots, some bigger ones had a turn.

It took a couple of REALLY BIG pirates to get this treasure chest open.

Every man for himself!
Finally, cake. I think this one might have choir directing in his future.

Or maybe there's a pastor in there somewhere.

Happy birthday, Evan, my littlest pirate. We all love you so much.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Will No One Rid Me of This Troublesome Cake?*

I have a major sweet tooth. It is very hard for me to pass up a dessert. And I am blessed with a fairly high metabolism. So I can get away with a cookie here and a piece of cake there. But this has been the Month of Cake in our house. We had three birthdays in October, and last weekend my 6-year-old and I won a cake in the cakewalk at church (we had an All Saints/Reformation "This Is Your Grandfather's Church" party). Evan picked it out for the way it looked on the outside, but then decided he didn't like the inside (it's a lemon-flavored cake). I, on the other hand, like it very much. And I have slowly been making it disappear.

This is not good. Saturday Evan will get together with some of his friends for a belated birthday party (he was sick on his actual birthday last week, but we still had a family cake). So that means yet another cake is coming--the fifth to come through our front door in a month. Thanksgiving and Christmas are only weeks away, as is the likelihood not only of holiday meals and parties but of multiple edible gifts from the wonderful people that my husband and I work with in church and community music ensembles. I don't have the money to go out and buy all new clothes. There are already a number of things in my closet that I am avoiding these days because I dread trying to squeeze into them. Thank goodness for stretchy jeans (I never, ever thought I would say that). But I have got to quit eating.

And yet . . . dark chocolate truffles from Trader Joe's, chocolate covered raisins from the Girl Scouts, French Silk pie from Market Day, homemade pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving (which no one in the house eats but me), egg nog, Bailey's Irish cream, Christmas cookies . . . they're all coming. Sigh. What is a dyed in the wool sweet tooth with no self-control to do?

*Name that allusion.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Raking Leaves

One of our rakes broke, but Trevor the Resourceful is undeterred.

I think this is what they call a "Leaf Salutation."

The whole point of raking leaves is for 6-year-olds to play in them, no?

There's a pretty girl under there somewhere!

"What's gonna work? Team work!"

"Hey, who turned out the lights?"

"Woof! I wanna play, too!"

Friends forever.

Never let it be said that this mom makes her children do all the work.

Hmmm, what to do with these?


Life is good.

Head Scratcher

So, on the radio this morning I heard a report on the exit polling yesterday. It went something like this:

"The majority of voters reported that President Obama was not a significant factor in their vote. Instead, the issue about which they were most concerned was the rapid expansion of the federal government and increased federal spending."


Let me rephrase that.


I want to watch this show

There's a new show on ABC. It's an updated version of the old series (miniseries?) "V." I remember watching the old one some years ago--it was about space aliens who supposedly want to be our friends but who really want to eat us.

Here's an excerpt of an article in the Chicago Tribune about the new "V":

Imagine this. At a time of political turmoil, a charismatic, telegenic new leader arrives virtually out of nowhere. He offers a message of hope and reconciliation based on compromise and promises to marshal technology for a better future that will include universal health care.

The news media swoons in admiration -- one simpering anchorman even shouts at a reporter who asks a tough question: "Why don't you show some respect?!" The public is likewise smitten, except for a few nut cases who circulate batty rumors on the Internet about the leader's origins and intentions. The leader, undismayed, offers assurances that are soothing, if also just a tiny bit condescending: "Embracing change is never easy."

So, does that sound like anyone you know? Oh, wait -- did I mention the leader is secretly a totalitarian space lizard who's come here to eat us?

Welcome to ABC's "V," the most fascinating and bound to be the most controversial new show of the fall television season. Nominally a rousing sci-fi space opera about alien invaders bent on the conquest (and digestion) of all humanity, it's also a barbed commentary on Obamamania that will infuriate the president's supporters and delight his detractors.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What's Wrong With This Picture?

For the record, your round unvarnish'd blogger is NOT responsible for this "found" image, which shows the top two shelves of our pantry. Evan is--once again--too short to arouse suspicion. The tallest person in the house was out of town all weekend. That leaves two other sufficiently tall ones, one of whom has already pled innocent. Hmmm, that sort of narrows the field, now doesn't it? Do I hear a mea culpa somewhere, out there?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Found Poem

In recent days I have posted several "found" items. For those who may not know, a piece of "found" art or literature is one that was not intended as such but is instead a natural product of life. In art it might be an accidental convergence of everyday household objects that create a striking visual image or bespeak something more significant going on beneath the surface. In literature it could be a casually jotted message from one family member to another, an excerpt of a newspaper article, or even a passage from something as mundane as a shopping list or owner's manual. In literature there is an entire genre known as "found" poetry that actually consists of crafted poems masquerading as found ones. William Carlos Williams is one of the best known practitioners, and his poem "This Is Just to Say" a famous example.

Since I have been having fun with the "found" concept on my blog the last day or so, you can imagine my surprise at finding a poem in my email inbox this morning. It was a note from my husband, who has been out of town since Thursday, serving as the musician for a Doxology conference in Schuyler, Nebraska this weekend.

Here's what he sent me (I am reproducing it here with his reluctant permission):

Dearest Cheryl,

I had this thing.
It was called a day.
It was quite beautiful.
Blue sky.
Peaceful prairie.
Vitamin D.
Gentle wind.
Beautiful view.
Time to think.
Space to enjoy.

Only one problem . . .
I couldn't share it with you!
See you tomorrow late (1am).
Love you. Always.

Speaking of finding masterpieces right under one's nose, I dare say that is exactly what I did when I first set my sights on the above poem's author some 25 years ago. I knew from the first moment that we met that here was something different--a one-of-a-kind piece that would be all I would ever need in the art gallery of my life. How very right I was.

I love you always, too, Phillip, and all of us here at the Museum will be glad when that big, cold empty space where you should be is inhabited once again.