". . . 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, December 31, 2010

Blessed New Year!

I for one am ready for it. 2010 kicked my fanny. I need only look at my blog post counter to see how much. In 2007 I logged 178 posts. I started blogging in May of that year. In 2008 I was cooking: 435 posts! Hmmm, wonder what was going on that gave me so much to talk about . . . . In 2009 I slowed down a bit, posting 321 times. But in 2010 I crashed and burned: 173 posts, including this one. That's just a little over half of last year's output.

I'm hoping that in 2011 the pendulum will swing the other way, if only a bit. I have wanted to write more this year, but life has gotten in the way. When I have managed to write it has been mostly about my personal life because I have had a hard time thinking much beyond that. That's not a bad thing, since most of you are friends who for some reason actually seem to be interested (thank you for that). But I envisioned this blog as a place to write about a lot more than just my comings and goings and doings, and I hope next year to more often venture outside my own four walls, maybe take a stroll through town, hike over to the next town or those hills in the distance, and perhaps even climb one and see what's on the other side. I would be honored if you would join me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Home Video

Evan and Dad having a snowball fight in our back yard (note the snow-covered construction debris in the background):

Snowball Fight! from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Listening to the live broadcast of King's College Lessons and Carols Service while watching the snow fall and decorating the tree on Christmas Eve morning:

Tree Decorating/Listening to Lessons and Carols from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Evan's class singing their songs in the Sunday School Christmas program. Evan is fourth from the left (the short one--his class is so tall!). His is the voice you hear pop out louder than the others on a number of occasions. I have been encouraging him to use his "pretty" (non-yelling) voice in church but sometimes his enthusiasm wins out over melodious singing. His appearance in this program was a victory for him as he was very nervous about it--unexpected case of stage fright. But we talked him through it and told him he really needed to participate because his classmates needed him to help them sing. I think he took that responsibility quite seriously.

I love how he gets pushed out of the line towards the end of the video so he is hidden behind the row but manages to work his way back out to the front. That's my boy!

Sunday School Christmas Program from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmastide Listening

So . . . if you're like me, you went to church on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and now you're looking at four days until the next church service (New Year's Eve). BUT IT'S STILL CHRISTMAS! So while you're waiting for the next opportunity to join your sisters and brothers in Christ in worship, maybe this will help fill in the gap a bit. It's a link to the 7:15 Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols service at my church. I was not able to attend this service. I went to the 5:00 and 11:00 services but needed to take care of things (and people) at home in the interim. I am so sorry I had to miss it. But praise be to God for modern technology, because the podcast is now up and available for my (and your) listening pleasure!

Several of the musicians involved in this service are of a particularly high level of training and skill. Much of the special music was provided by a vocal quartet comprised of the Cantor, two professional caliber female singers who are members of our congregation (one of whom is a trained lyric soprano with a doctorate in voice), and a young man (not a member) who is the star pupil of the aforementioned opera singer. I challenge you to turn the podcast off after listening to that young man (merely 16 years of age) sing the prelude for the service. I don't think you'll be able to. The song ("O Holy Night") is not one of my favorites--I think it is often poorly sung by amateurs or, on the flip side, oversung--with too much belting--by professionals. But I was transfixed by this presentation. I think that young singer--his name is Joshua Blue--is going to be famous some day.

The service opens with the traditional "Once in Royal David's City" and ends with the Willcocks descant on "O Come, All Ye Faithful." In between there are choral stanzas on "Of the Father's Love Begotten," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came," and "On this Day Earth Shall Ring," plus several special vocal offerings, including "In Dulci Jubilo" and "Gesu Bambino." (Here's a link to the bulletin.)

And, oh yes, there was brass. And they rocked.

So if, as the song goes, you find yourself needing a little Christmas over the next few days, I have just given you one place to find it! And in short order, there should be another link to our 11:00 communion service featuring the adult choir throughout and capped by some soft accordion playing on the final hymn, "Silent Night." I'll let you know when that one's up.

Merry second day of Christmas!

Christmas 2010

This Advent season has been one for the record books. Like many of you, I often find myself feeling rather frantic at this time of year. It is supposed to be a penitential and reflective time, a time to slow down and prepare for the Nativity of our Lord. Instead December is often the busiest, most frantic and harried month of the year, as I scamper mightily in an effort to check off all the things on my Christmas to-do list.

This year was no different. Then again, I guess it was different, but only inasmuch as it was even crazier than usual. In addition to all the usual stuff, we have this little house project that is ongoing. We couldn't even think about decorating until after the drywalling was completed, and that happened less than a week ago. But, thanks be to God, it got done before Christmas, allowing us a few days in which to carve out a space in our family room for a tree.

Here was the view of our family room shortly after the drywall was primed. Everything is still moved to the center of the room, away from the walls.

Here is the result of a few hours of work. The sofa has been turned around and chairs moved into place. You can see our new track lighting with six sources of illumination that can be pointed in any direction. This is not how our family room will ultimately look. This is not exactly how the furniture will be. The bookshelf that is sitting in the middle of the room (you can see the back of it), plus several others, will soon be history, replaced by built-ins on either side of the fireplace. In time I hope that metal school cabinet in the distance will find a different place to live. A desk that belonged to my father-in-law will be moved in, as will a television. But the immediate goal here was simply to create space for a Christmas tree and present opening. That was accomplished! (Aside to Elephant's Child, my decorating conscience: what do you think of the light? And the sofa in the middle of the room functioning, along with the light, as a room divider?)

Here's the fireless (for now) fireplace. It used to be a 2-way that opened out to the sunroom. The sunroom is no more, as are the glass panels that used to be on either side of the fireplace. We could have returned the house to its previous state and put windows in those spots, but we opted instead to close the walls entirely and put in bookcases. Those can't come soon enough! (Note: you can see some of the water damage sustained over the past few years on the carpet in the far corner. We are not replacing the carpet at this time. That corner will eventually be covered up with a bookcase. Some day we hope to rip out the carpet and replace it with wood floors. Some day. )

We usually have a real tree and we usually decorate it a few weeks before Christmas. This year it was an artificial tree decorated on Christmas Eve morning. This picture was taken on Christmas Day after Santa came and before Evan woke up.

You will notice there are no stockings. This year they were hung with care not over the fireplace (no mantel yet) but by the front door on the coat rack. I assured Evan that Santa would find them there (and he did).

A close-up of the gifts from Santa:

Time to open presents. Hey, it's just what I wanted!

That's a nice, close shave there, Dad. New razor, huh? (Bonus points to the first out-of-towner to appreciate the significance of this photo.)

Brotherly love. :-)

Enjoying a new book!

And another! (We have no problem with books for Christmas in this house.)

Pretty girl. I wish I could wake up looking this naturally beautiful.

Shiloh got as many presents as anyone!

A new game for Dad!

Shiloh likes the pillow pet, too.

I hope your Christmas was a happy one, too. But even more, I hope it was a joyous one, because happiness comes and goes, but the joy of the Lord--the Christ Child--is abiding. He came for all, which means He came for you. And having come to this earthly prison, he gathers you up in His arms so as to carry you with Him to Calvary and beyond. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Grief Interred

From what I understand of grief (which is not all that much), there is no ignoring it. One way or another, where the human psyche is concerned, it will have its way. It takes a long time for the grieving heart to fully work through its emotions, and it is best if it happens a little at a time, in measurable, manageable doses rather than as a full throttle explosion after being suppressed for too long. There are as many and varied ways of processing grief as there are individuals who grieve. We are all different, and we all have our own ways of trying to make sense of the senseless. I don't know if I have ever had that truth made as clear to me as it was today.

It happened when we were sitting down to open Christmas presents. We had gathered around our fireplace that isn't a working fireplace yet due to the construction/repair our house has been undergoing the last few months. To make it seem more like a fireplace, and to give the illusion of a real tree (which we prefer but don't have this year) I had placed a votive candle holder in the fireplace and lit the pine-scented candles it held. As is our custom, we told the youngest, Evan, that he could start the present opening. But instead of heading for the tree to pick out a gift, he started to cry.

"Mommy! Mommy! My duplicate is dead!"

(For those who may not know, the word "duplicate" when used in this way comes from the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip and refers to imaginary, often multiple, copies of Calvin who assist him in a variety of ways--for example, taking the blame for bad behavior, or doing homework so that Calvin doesn't have to. Evan has embraced the concept of the duplicate and over the past year we have had our share of Evan duplicates running around the house.)

Back to the story. "What?" I asked. "What do you mean, your duplicate is dead?"

"He died! I buried him, right there in the fireplace." Evan's extended arm and pointing finger directed our attention to the place where his duplicate was purportedly buried, and we saw something we had not noticed before: Evan had picked up one of the used matches and written in front of the candles on the fireplace floor, in black ash, his name: "Evan."

The crying continued. It was not faked, but real. Horribly real. Evan was distraught.

"But Evan, duplicates are imaginary. They can't die. They're not real." This was my genius insight, which didn't help. The crying continued, and Evan continued:

"And now that he's dead he can't get me any presents!"

It was at this point that Dad stepped in.

"Evan, come here." Evan obeyed and was pulled on to his dad's lap.

Dad continued. "How did your duplicate die, Evan?"

"He fell down and hit his head very, very hard."

"I'm so sorry about that. That is very terrible. But you know what? Your duplicate will always be with you. He'll always be in your heart. You'll never forget him. Okay?"

"Okay." A few more sniffles and hugs all around, and all was well enough that the gift-opening could commence. Of course, now Evan's (and his duplicate's) mom was a basket case. Because as all this was going on, and as my husband was handling it in the right way, it dawned on me that Evan at seven years old is no different from any of us, whatever our age. When a special day comes, whether it's a holiday or a birthday or a graduation or a wedding, we look around and expect that certain people are going to be there (or if not there, within calling distance). When they aren't, we are reminded anew of the loss that we have experienced and the depth of the grief it has caused. They can't be with us anymore. We won't ever again, in this life, see their faces, hear their voices, or feel their arms around us or our hands in theirs. They won't ever be able to buy us another present. And oh, how that hurts.

Evan has attended four funerals in the last year-and-a-half, for two of his grandparents, his preschool teacher, and a beloved family friend who was once our pastor. With each of those deaths, I think a little part of Evan died, too, as it does in all of us when someone we love departs this life. Perhaps what we saw today was Evan's trying to come to terms with that loss and grief by "burying" a little part of himself. So rest in peace, Duplicate Evan. You served my little boy well. You gave your heart without reservation to those you loved, and I trust that with God's help the rest of the Evans will carry on in your stead, in turn giving their hearts to many who will be blessed by their prodigal love.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Where are all the wise men?

"Oh, what a ridiculous thing, that the one true God, the high Majesty, should be made man; that here they should be joined, man and his Maker, in one Person. Reason opposes this with all its might.

Here, then, those wise thoughts with which our reason soars up towards heaven to seek our God in His own Majesty, and to probe out how He reigns there on high, are taken from us. The goal is fixed elsewhere, so that I should run from all the corners of the world to Bethlehem, to that stable and that manger where the babe lies, or to the Virgin's lap. Yes, that subdues the reason.

Do not search what is too high for thee. But here it comes down before my eyes, so that I can see the babe there in His mother's lap. There lies a human being who was born like any other child, and lives like any other child, and shows no other nature, manner, and work than any other human being, so that no heart could guess that the creature is the Creator. Where, then, are all the wise men? Who would ever have conceived this or thought it out? Reason must bow, and must confess her blindness in that she wants to climb to heaven to fathom the Divine, while she cannot see what lies before her eyes."

Martin Luther, sermons from the year 1533
Source: Day by Day We Magnify Thee

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Making Some Changes

I have been working on Christmas cards the last few days. (They're all in the mail! Yippeee!) As usual, we are sending out a family photo (actually, this year it's just the kids) along with a year-end family newsletter (you know, the kind that it's lately become fashionable to ridicule).

I approached the letter a little differently this year. Instead of organizing it by person or chronology, I decided to approach it thematically. And without a doubt, our family theme the last few years has been change. So the letter introduces that theme, talks about how humans in general don't like change, outlines some of the major changes in our family's life, and points the reader to the One who doesn't change. "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny himself." (2 Timothy 2:13)

I'm not going to rehash all of that. If you're a very close friend you probably know some of it. If you're not, count yourself blessed to be out of the loop. But I thought I would share a couple of more trivial areas of my life in which I have this year come face to face with the unavoidability of change and the consequences of trying to ignore it.

First, my feet. For the past year or two I have been experiencing foot pain that started out slowly but has gotten worse and worse. So how did I respond? As any self-respecting middle-aged woman with too much to do would, of course. I ignored it. I kept on wearing the same shoes and behaving in the same ways as I have for my entire life. After all, my feet never hurt before. Why should I have to change the way I live and walk and care for them now?

I learned that the answer to that question is that if I don't change I am going to be crippled some day. So finally, unable to ignore the pain any longer (it's not normal to be nearly unable to walk for the first 5-10 minutes when you wake up in the morning), I went to the foot doctor and discovered two things. First, I have something called a Morton's toe, which has led to a complication called Morton's neuroma. Some Morton's neuromas require surgery; mine is not too far progressed and should respond to PROPER CARE.

The second cause of my foot problems is something I already knew but didn't connect to my feet. I am getting old. I have flexible feet that flatten out when I stand or walk on them. Over my 46 years of life, I have done a lot of standing and walking, and the combination of that and aging means that the natural cushioning in my feet is playing out. It's like a mattress that has lost its spring or a pillow that has flattened out over time. So, as the doctor described it, when I walk on bare feet it's like walking on bone (and it feels like it). There's no cushion there anymore. He made an analogy to trying to support my body weight on knees and elbows. It would start to hurt pretty fast. That's about where my feet are.

What does this mean? Three things, essentially: better shoes, orthotics, and no more barefoot walking. I am going to be working on the first item on the list over time, trying to replace some of my shoes with better ones. (Might be a good idea to start by replacing those Skecher sandals that I have worn every day all summer for the last 5 years or so.) I have already been measured for orthotics and last week received a call from the doctor that they are in (just haven't had time to pick them up yet). And I have become religious about not going barefoot, ever. Not even to walk from my bed to the bathroom in the morning when I wake up. My slippers are ever-present. I even took them to a friend's house this week so that I would have something to walk around in after removing my snow boots. It's interesting how after only a few weeks of this new habit it feels normal. Now if I go barefoot I feel literally naked. And it's helping. My feet are feeling better. (Except when I spend all day walking around in unsupported, orthotic-less snow boots while running errands and Christmas shopping. Ouch.)

This post has actually gotten longer than I anticipated, so you will have to wait to hear about the other change I mentioned earlier. Here's a hint, though: it also has to do with aging. Imagine that.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Celebration Day

This afternoon Evan and I played in the snow. After coming inside we made hot chocolate (for him) and coffee (for me). As we sat together warming up with our respective beverages, Evan made an announcement: "Today is Celebration Day!"

"Really?" I asked. "What are we celebrating?"

"That Christmas is a week away!"

Why, yes it is. How could I forget?

Evan again: "To celebrate, we'll be singing Kyrie I. Do you know what page it's on?" By this time he had pulled a hymnal off the shelf next to our kitchen table and was looking through the book.

"It's in the back, sweetie. I think it's in the 800's." (Wrong on my part. Turns out it's in the 900's.)

Evan: "After Kyrie I, we'll sing Kyrie II." A pause, as he turned to the front of the hymnal, the Advent section. "Then 'The Advent of Our God.'"

He named several more hymns in the Advent section, but I don't remember what they were. We started our Celebration Day observance by singing both Kyrie's as promised (Kyrie II was sung in both Greek and English). Then there was a change of plans and we sang another Kyrie--"Kyrie, God Father"--on the preceding page. By that time we had to clean up and prepare to leave the house for a 2:00 appointment, so there was no time for hymns. But even though our celebration was cut short, Evan seemed satisfied.

What I think is revealing here is Evan's embracing of the sanctification of time and the liturgy. Something special is happening. He wanted to mark and observe it. How did he do so? Through ritual and ceremony. Through order. Through the liturgy. He started as many of our church services do: with the Kyrie. Then he proceeded to sing a hymn. And not just any hymn, mind you, but one appropriate to the season: an Advent hymn.

Tomorrow is the fourth Sunday of Advent. Evan is well aware of that fact and is looking forward to singing "Light the candle of hope today" while the acolyte does just that on the Advent wreath. Evan knows that in a few days the blue paraments will be changing to white and the lights on the sanctuary's Christmas trees will be lit for the first time. He told me today that the reason we are having "Celebration Day" is that we are celebrating that Jesus is coming so that He will be able to die for our sins. Then his eyes lit up: "And on Easter we'll get a new candle!" (He was speaking of the paschal candle, which gets replaced each Easter Vigil.)

People say that liturgical worship is boring for children--that what children need is not candles and paraments and ritual and hymns and liturgy but rather, entertainment and fast-paced excitement. I think Evan would have something to say about that. In fact, I think he already did.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wachet Auf Podcast

Two weeks ago as part of our observance of Advent, my church presented Bach's Cantata BWV 140 on the chorale Wachet Auf ("Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying"). The podcast is now available and you may listen to it here. The bulletin with text and background information on the cantata (written by Carlos Messerli) can be found here. The cantata begins at about the 21-minute mark, but I strongly encourage you to listen to the entire service and be blessed by all of the hymnody, liturgy, preaching, and special music contained therein.



It's the little things that mean so much.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent Reprise

This is a repeat of my post from December 2, 2009. Hope you don't mind--I needed to read it again.

There is a house I pass almost daily in my travels, usually multiple times. It is located about halfway between my own house and my church. Its position, backing up to a greenway next to my regular route, means that I have a good view of the back of the house rather than the front.

We have been living in our current home for almost 10 years, so I have been driving this same route equally as long. And for all of that time, or as much of it as I can remember, this house has been lavishly decorated for Christmas. And the decorations are of the sort that I actually like--not those big plastic/inflatable monstrosities, just lots and lots of lights in many colors. It's unusual to see the back of a house decorated so extensively, but no doubt the owners realized that more people see the back of their house than the front. So for years they have provided those driving by with quite an impressive display.

That is, until last year. Last year Christmas came and went, but the lights never went up, and I assumed that the house had changed hands and that the new owners weren't continuing the tradition. Too bad, I thought. I will miss that daily dose of holiday cheer.

But lo and behold, last week the decorations were back! And they are identical to those we have seen on this house for years, so my assumption is that the house did not change owners after all (although I suppose it is possible the previous owner left the light display behind). Which leaves me to wonder:

What happened? Why were there no lights last year?

The possibilities are endless. Was there an extended illness? Cancer, maybe? Chemotherapy treatments? Was there a job loss? Was there a serious injury, a divorce or a death? Did someone deploy to Iraq?

Maybe there was a joyous event, like the birth of a new baby.

Or maybe they were just tired.

There is no way of knowing, but my gut tells me there is a story there. And as I look from that house to the next, and the next, and the next, and I think about how many houses I drive by every day, I can't begin to imagine the complicated stories playing out in each of them. It boggles my mind to think of how many people there are in this world and of the various trials they are facing. Really, it's a wonder any lights get hung at all! If we were outside decorators (we're not), you can bet our lights would not be going up this year.

But thanks be to God that there is a Light that doesn't need me to hang it up, plug it in, or turn it on. It is the Light of Christ, the Light that shoots like a laser through the darkest darkness, the Light that shines no matter the season, the Light that had no beginning and has no end. It is the Light we await this Advent, the Light that became flesh and entered our time-space continuum a little over two thousand years ago, the Light that suffered, died and rose, ascended into heaven, and promises to come again. It is the Star of Bethlehem, the radiant beams from the face of the Holy Child, the Light that shines from the throne of God and wraps itself with perfect love around His saints.

Whether or not you hang lights on your house this season, may you bask in the Light of Him who is Light, as that Light shines to you and through you for all to see.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Another Advent Moment

"Fling Wide the Gates" - Psalm 27:7-10, Setting by Allan Mahnke from Cheryl on Vimeo.

(The song begins at about the 20-second mark.)

"Fling wide the gates, open the ancient doors, and the great king will come in.
Who is this great king? He is the Lord, strong and mighty.
Who is this great king? The Lord, victorious in battle.
Who is this great king? The triumphant Lord. He is the great king!"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Prepare the Royal Highway

One of my favorite Advent hymns is "Prepare the Royal Highway" (Lutheran Service Book 343). We sing it a little differently at my church, courtesy of my husband the Cantor. I love how he plays it, capturing in music the anticipation of the people of God as their King approaches: "Hosanna to the Lord, for He fulfills God's Word." The people of our congregation love it: just listen to the singing! And the children love it: it is one of the hymns they most often request. Enjoy! And be joyful! The King is coming soon!

(P.S. You can see my two younger men in the front row of the congregation, a tall one in a green shirt helping a short one in a red shirt to follow the hymn in the hymnal. Oh, and that very pretty acolyte--the one closest to the camera--is my daughter.)

Prepare the Royal Highway - Lutheran Service Book 343 from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


You know how sometimes the facts that live in your head just hit you all at once in a different place?

I had one of those moments today. I was dropping my senior-in-high-school son off at his college math class. As he walked away from the car he turned around and gave me a little wave. It was right out of the movie Big--you know, that moment at the end when Margaret Colin is watching grown-up Tom Hanks walk down the leaf-strewn street, only to briefly glance away and look back to find that he has changed again into his little boy self?

I had a flash like that today. For a fleeting moment, I saw in my great big 18-year-old man the little boy he once was.

I cried all the way home.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Last week at our Thanksgiving Day service my pastor highlighted some passages in Luther's Small Catechism that speak of the attitude of thankfulness that we as children of God ought to demonstrate. For example, the meaning of the First Article of The Apostle's Creed ("I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth") concludes thus:

"All of this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him."

What a beautiful Gospel statement of the Father's love: "All of this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me."

But the next sentence has a word that might seem to rain a bit on the Gospel parade:

"For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him."

Ouch. Duty? That sounds like a "have to," not a "want to." Think of the word "dutiful." When you "dutifully" do something you do it not with joy or gladness or out of a desire to serve but rather, reluctantly, because you have to or because there will be undesirable consequences if you don't.

But as my pastor explained, the word "duty" here is not to be taken as something we do because we "have to" but something we do because it is appropriate--because it is called for. In other words, it is the only fitting response. Think of it. Parents have a duty to take care of their children. Is that care given "dutifully"? Well, maybe occasionally. Parents get tired and sometimes they have to make themselves do the things that they ought. And sometimes they fail. But in the big picture their DESIRE is to care for their children. It is their duty, yes; but it is a duty they embrace, one that arises out of their vocation. They are parents: it is appropriate and fitting that they care for their children and they do so willingly, out of love, not because they have to.

Or think of our soldiers who go into harm's way to keep us safe. They have a duty to protect and defend their nation. Or doctors, who have a duty to provide the best care they can to their patients. Or pastors, who have a duty to shepherd their flocks. I could go on, but you get the idea.

All jobs--all vocations--have duties assigned to them. The duties are the actions that define that vocation and make it what it is--the very fabric out of which it is woven and from which it is inseparable. It's not a matter of, "Okay, you're a baptized child of God and He has given you all this--now you better go and be thankful because, after all, it's your duty." Instead, it's "You're a baptized child of God and He has given you all this. Wow! Of course you're thankful. How could you be anything BUT?"

Leave it to God to turn "dutiful" into "duty-full." He fills us with all good things, including the joyous duty of thanking Him at all times!

Friday, November 26, 2010

History Lesson

Evan's birthday was in October and his baptismal birthday in November. To mark both occasions, his godparents gave him several gifts. One was this floor puzzle of the presidents from Melissa & Doug Toys :

It has totally captured Evan's imagination. He is at that stage of development where he loves lists and sequences. For the first few days after he got the puzzle he enjoyed showing it to whoever happened to be around. But soon it became clear that the question "Can I show you my president puzzle?" was an invitation not merely to see the box but to be treated to a catalogue of the presidents in order as he pointed to each and pronounced his name: "That's our first president. His name was George Washington. That's our second president. His name was John Adams." And so on, through all forty-four.

The fascination with the presidents has led to some history lessons. The lessons are brief, just a descriptive sentence or two so that Evan has something simple to latch on to: "George Washington was a general in the American Revolution." "Woodrow Wilson was president during World War I." (Evan is particularly interested in World War I these days since that's when that great Flying Ace, Snoopy, imagines himself fighting the Red Baron.)

Tonight at dinner the subject of President Obama came up. Evan is growing up in a strongly conservative Republican household and he long ago learned the bottom line about Mr. Obama. If asked about our President, he will unhesitatingly and definitively state: "Barack Obama is a socialist. He's ruining the country!"

And that's what happened tonight as we were getting dinner on the table. The name "Obama" came up (as it frequently does because we discuss politics a lot in our house), and my husband called across the kitchen to our son: "Evan, tell us about Barack Obama." Evan's reply came immediately:

"Barack Obama is a socialist! He's ruining the country!"

But that wasn't all. Tonight there was more.

"And so is William Jefferson Clinton. And James Earl 'Jimmy' Carter, Jr. They wanted to ruin the country, too!"

Oh, dear, how we laughed. I think I laughed, as much as anything, at my first grader's knowing and being able to pronounce without a hitch the presidents' full names, including first, middle, last, nicknames, and suffixes. I asked my husband if he taught Evan to say those things and he said no. At least, not in so many words. I think we are seeing some rather advanced thought on the part of our 7-year-old. Dad has said enough that Evan was able to put Clinton and Carter in the same category as Obama, which to him means they must have been country-ruining socialists, too. If the shoe fits . . . .

And to think Evan hasn't even put that puzzle together yet.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

Two musical offerings from our Thanksgiving Day service this morning. First, a setting of Psalm 104 by Carl Schalk, sung by my daughter Caitlin. Here is the text:

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live,
I will praise my God while I have my being.
O Lord, how manifold are your works,
In wisdom You have made them all.
The earth is full of Your creatures.
You send forth Your spirit and they are created,
And so You renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever,
May the Lord rejoice in all His works.
(Psalm 104: 24, 27-28, 33)

Psalm 104 - Setting by Carl Schalk from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Second, a piano/organ duet by Trevor and Phillip. Trevor did triple duty this morning, serving as acolyte, bell ringer, and pianist!

"Songs for Thanksgiving" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Untidy Thanksgiving

The work on our house continues. Once upon a time I hoped it would be done in time for us to host an election party. Then I imagined an intact home for Thanksgiving. Now I am setting my sights on Christmas.

The electrical upgrade is done. So is the roof. Part of it had to be rebuilt because the overhang was removed when the sunroom was put on. This entire side of the house now has new roofing and venting. No siding yet, but at least we have progressed from plastic to Tyvek!

If you've been following this saga from the beginning, you know that the French doors in the above picture are not exterior doors and will need to be replaced with something weather-worthy. That hasn't happened yet, and it's cold in Chicago right now! Time for Plan B. We decided a blanket over the door on the other side might be just the thing. I rustled up a likely candidate and Mr. Round Unvarnish'd went to work. Only, the first time he hung up the blanket he did so with the pretty side facing out. Men. I pointed out the error of his ways and he dutifully pulled out the nails and made the necessary adjustment.

I think it actually looks kind of Thanksgiving-y, in an Indian blanket sort of way. Good thing, too, since the kitchen is where we will be eating Thanksgiving dinner this year. I present, for your consideration, our dining room:

I am, very simply, running out of places to put things and am piling, stashing and stuffing them wherever I can. Our family room is still in serious disarray, with many of its usual occupants displaced to other parts of the house.

So Thanksgiving in the kitchen it is. At least we have been able to move our kitchen table back to the kitchen table spot instead of having it occupy the work space between sink and stove. Things are so crowded right now that we considered letting Cracker Barrel provide tomorrow's repast. But a mere three days ago I picked up the smoked portions of the pig we bought this fall, which means we are now the proud owners of not one but two hams. One of those will be cooked tomorrow. To that we are adding sweet potatoes, cole slaw, green beans, deviled eggs, fresh bread, Riesling, and French silk pie purchased from the Jewel bakery. It will only be our immediate family gathered around the table, and we decided that what we most desired this year was simplicity.

I am naturally a quite orderly person: I like having "a place for everything and everything in its place." But it's getting harder and harder to hold to that standard. For years now neither life nor my brain has been cooperating, and I have been having to adjust accordingly. Now this. Surprisingly, I have not been overly stressed by the disorderliness of our home. I know this is temporary. There is really nothing I can do but wait it out, clean what I can clean, and ignore the rest. So hey, maybe this whole thing is actually making me grow into a better person, forcing me to keep the value of tidiness and order in proper perspective.

At the same time, there is a limit to how much "growth" one body can sustain. Come Christmas, if I don't have room for a proper Christmas tree, all bets are off and I will not be responsible for the babbling idiot that bears my name.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Speaking of Waking Up

Yesterday morning when I woke up I was presented with this. He worked on it the night before after I tucked him in. It is inspired by Calvin & Hobbes. A duplicate Calvin wrote a similar note to Suzy (rhymes with woozy). I'm not sure how the comment about evil thoughts fits in. I guess he's trying to impress me?

I love how it took three attempts to write "To Mom."

Have I mentioned lately how much I adore this kid? And he totally knows it.

Wake Up!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Maestro in the Making

This video was taken last week at our fall piano recital. It was Evan's second recital. I love the smiles between songs. I also love how he is loving piano. Our school routine has been jettisoned of late as a result of many changes in our household, and piano lessons have not been as regular as I would like, but Evan continues progressing on his own, paging through his books, learning songs far ahead of where he is "supposed" to be. I'm quite impressed with his note reading--it is usually one of the more difficult things to develop at this age, but he is totally getting it. As for rhythm, well, we have a little more work to do there. This kid marches to his own beat.

I hope you enjoy "Electric Bass," "The Singing Donkey," and "Little Indian Lance."

(Aside to my husband: we need to do a better job of cleaning up the music area before recitals!)

Piano Recital, Nov. 7, 2010 from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I'm playing hooky this morning. A little before 9:00 a.m. I'm going to lock myself in the bedroom with coffee and chocolate, turn on the Oprah Winfrey show (which I haven't seen in at least 10 years), and watch as Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford reunite to reminisce about the making of The Way We Were. Oh, yes, and Barbra's going to sing.

I have been a Barbra Streisand fan since I was a little girl. One of my older sisters had a couple of her albums, and one in particular made an impression on me from the first moment I heard it. It was the live recording of her fundraising concert for presidential candidate George McGovern at the Forum in Los Angeles in 1972. I remember listening to that album over and over, to the point that not only could I sing all the songs but could recite the banter between the songs and the monologue verbatim. I was too young to even understand what I was saying. Some of the comedy related to smoking pot and taking pills, but nonetheless I laughed when the audience laughed, pretending that I understood. There was just something about Barbra that struck a chord in me even then, at the age of 8, and as I followed her career in succeeding years I identified with her more and more. It was the whole ugly duckling turned into a swan thing: it was irresistible to someone like me who strongly felt herself to be squarely in the ugly duckling camp.

And then there was that voice. THAT VOICE. I had never heard anything like it and still never have. Her voice is now showing its age, and it makes me think about my own reaction to people like Frank Sinatra, who when I first heard him sing in his later years, made me wonder, "What's the big deal?" Now I realize that the big deal is how he sang and performed when he was young. That's what his fans never forgot, what they still saw in him even as he got older.

It is hard for me to believe that Barbra Streisand is almost 70 years old. I don't follow her career that closely anymore. I don't buy her records (although sometimes someone buys one for me). I can't abide her politics. I was alerted to this Oprah appearance by some friends who know what a fan I once was. There was a time that I bought every Streisand album, saw every Streisand movie (multiple times), read all the Streisand biographies, subscribed to her fan magazine, wrote fan letters, kept a scrapbook of clippings, and even bought music so I could learn to play her songs on the piano. I attribute all my listening to her old albums as giving me a deep appreciation for the music of the 1930s and 40s. When my friends in high school were listening to Journey and Boston I was still listening to Barbra. I couldn't tell you a thing about who Steve Perry was dating, but I could tell you Barbra Streisand's birthday (April 24, 1942), the name of her dog, the nightclub that launched her career, and what school she attended in Brooklyn. And I could sing every song from every one of her albums from memory. (Don't think I can still do that one!)

I'm getting on in years now, too, and I don't have time for such things. And I guess I've matured beyond my adolescent obsession because if I had more leisure time there are other things I would choose to do. But Barbra helped me through some pretty rough spots in my pre-teen and teen years, and for that I am grateful. So maybe one of these days when Trevor and Caitlin are married and Evan is in college and I don't know what to do with myself, I will spend a few weeks playing all those old LPs, watching all the old movies, and revisiting a pivotal element of my childhood. Until then, I'll catch the occasional Oprah appearance and spend a little time remembering the way Barbra and I both once were.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Return to King's Island

I am in Ohio this weekend, keeping my son company while he competes in the 19th Annual King's Island Open. We have been here several times over the years--here's a blog post with photos from our 2007 trip. That blog post begins with a reference to my 15-year-old son. Well, guess what? That 15-year-old son is three years older now, and this will probably be our last trip together to King's Island. Next year at this time he will be just a few months into his first year of college, and I doubt that he will have time for a weekend chess trip to Ohio. (Or if he does, he won't need me tagging along.)

Not that he really needs me tagging along right now. He's gotten quite good at navigating these chess tournaments. What he hasn't gotten so good at is actually driving to them, which means I'm not quite expendable. Yay! So here I am, stuck at King's Island with time on my hands, having left the rest of the family at home. What am I going to do with my wistful, nostalgic, Janus-faced self?

The only thing I can do: make the most of it. Reading is on the agenda, and more reading, and while I'm at it, a little reading. I might even watch some mindless television (there is still such a thing, right?), all while babying my feet, which have been giving me trouble of late. And of course, there's simply enjoying staying at a resort hotel. The only problem is that it seems this resort has gone a little down hill over the few years we have been coming here. I was satisfied with our first few stays. We didn't make it last year--we had planned to come but my mother-in-law's death necessitated cancelling the trip. But so far this year our stay has been less than impressive. Upon arriving to our room last night we realized that it had not been cleaned and so had to return to the desk to get another room. The new room is acceptable but is showing its age: the dresser is missing a knob, the towels are old and worn, the non-slip strips in the bathtub are peeling, and there are stains on the carpet in the hallway. Trevor and I were short on time last night before his first board, so instead of going out for food we ordered takeout salads from the hotel bar. His salad--a chicken Caesar with romaine lettuce--looked fine; but mine, the signature house salad with iceberg lettuce, craisins, tomatoes, and pine nuts, was less than impressive, with old, brown-around-the-edges lettuce and less-than-fresh tomatoes. It was disappointing. And as I walk around the hotel, I see much neglect not only to furnishings and upkeep but also to cleanliness and service. It is sad to see an established, well-known attraction in decline, but I think that's what is happening here. I suppose that's why the chess organization running the tournament was able to secure a $62/night rate. In light of that, I guess I can't complain too much.

Today I will be seeing my maid of honor and best college friend, who lives not too far from here. We went a number of years without seeing each other but recently reconnected, and now here I am seeing her for the second time in as many years! It will be great fun. She is a wonderful, loving, joy-filled soul who blesses me with her spirit and amazes me with her work ethic. I can't wait.

And oh, yes, the report from chess central is that Trevor won last night! Four rounds to go, one of which is currently in progress. More to come.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

From Sunroom to Patio

Remember this? The back of our house, mid-September:

The back of our house today:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sunroom Progress (Or Regress, Depending on How You Look at It)

The whole thing came down yesterday! The weather was beautiful, if a bit cool.

It was fascinating to watch. I was impressed by the efficiency and planning of the demolition team. First they set about removing glass. In the majority of cases, they were able to do so without any breakage, but there were a few shattered panes along the way.

You can see in these next few pictures how cloudy the glass had become. I guess there was a time in the life of this sunroom when the sky actually looked that blue, even through the glass. But that time has long since passed. And there was no fixing the problem because the cloudiness was not on the outside. Over time most of the seals on the panels had broken, allowing moisture and dirt to collect between the panes as well as in the sunroom itself. I was amazed at how much sunshine was streaming into our kitchen after all that foggy glass was removed!

There are a couple of shattered panels in this shot. The glass panels were at one time snapped into the frame under great pressure and the act of snapping them back out was just too much for some of them.

What a mess!

Our long-ago retired hot tub. It was funny to watch it get pushed back and forth all day since no one seemed to know what to do with it. We never got rid of it because we couldn't figure out how to get it out of the house (it was too big to go through the door). I don't know how the previous owners got it in. All I can figure is that they got it first and built the room around it!

After all the glass was out it was time to remove the frame. Here's a video of a little piece of that process. At the beginning of the video there are two guys working on the beam in question. About 50 seconds in, another man enters and he is the one that ends up pulling the beam loose and carrying it away. Am I crazy, or does he look a little like Mel Gibson?

Untitled from Cheryl on Vimeo.

And then it was time to go after the ? --I'm not sure what to call it but the lip of the foundation:

Untitled from Cheryl on Vimeo.

In the end we were left with a floor without a room and plastic for the outer back wall of our house, and of course, our lonely, orphaned hot tub (if anyone wants it, you're welcome to come and get it):

A view from inside:

We will be walking the dog out front for a while. Next week the tile will be removed from the sunroom floor and a new surface poured, turning our sunroom into a patio. Drywall, insulation, siding, and a weather-worthy exterior back door will complete the project.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

No Comment

Last night as I was cuddling with Evan (my 7-year-old), he looked at me, all sincerity and devotion, and said, "Mom, you're the most beautifulest mom in the whole world, ever!" I hugged and thanked him and reciprocated his declaration of love. Then, without missing a beat, he continued: "And Dad's the prettiest, I mean beautifulest, I mean hammiest dad!"

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Your Vote Matters

I hear it a lot these days: "It doesn't matter who you vote for. All politicians are the same. There's no real difference between Democrats and Republicans. They're too entrenched. Nothing is ever going to change."

Excuses, all. Excuses for sticking one's head in the sand and not investing, not caring, not studying, and not contributing to the process.

It does matter. They aren't all the same. Things can change. This election proves it. Anti-establishment candidates all over the country are riding a wave that may take them all the way to Washington (or their state capitols). We may be celebrating conservative victories tonight that a year ago no one could have ever dreamed of.

Ultimately, if it's true that it doesn't matter, that they're all the same, that reclaiming our country's Constitutional foundation is impossible, we have no one to blame but ourselves. United States citizens today have more freedom than any people in history ever have. We have come close to squandering it. But thank God many are starting to wake up. It's time to make a big noise, folks. We can do it. And if we make a loud enough noise, tomorrow "Yes, we can" (to borrow a phrase) will be come "Yes, we did."

Go and vote and catch the wave that is only now beginning, that will take us to 2012 and beyond as we fight to get our country back.

Friday, October 29, 2010

How Times Have Changed

Me and Trevor in December, 2000, at a Young Naperville Singers choir concert for which he sang and I played

Me and Trevor in October, 2010, following a Chicago Blaze chess team match in which his win helped secure the team's berth in the 2010 United States Chess League playoffs

Can someone please tell me where the years have gone?