". . . 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, May 31, 2010


Please don't hate me, but I'm one of THOSE. Yes, one of those. My favorite class in school was English. I loved it all: the grammar, the writing, the reading . . . . Ah, but not just the reading. The analyzing. The picking apart and breaking down and obsessing over and interpreting and discussing and scrutinizing and evaluating and all the rest. Raft symbolism in Huckleberry Finn? Bring it on. Rocking chair imagery in Sister Carrie? No problem. Irony in "Richard Cory"? How obvious can you get?

I loved English class so much in high school that when I got to college and needed something fun to balance the stress of being a piano performance major, I signed up for a literature course. Then another. And another. I did it enough times that after I completed my music degree I realized I might as well press on another semester or two and get the English degree as well. Before I knew it I had a teaching certificate and 150 bright, waiting, upturned faces eager to be enlightened by my collected literary insights and to join me in further textual excavations.

Ummm, no. Would you believe that not all of them shared my passion? That there were other things they would rather do than catalogue all the foreshadowing clues in "A Rose for Emily"? That it was enough for them to merely read "The Fall of the House of Usher" as a scary story, giving no thought to the allegorical implications? What was wrong with these kids?

To answer the question, they weren't interested. A lot of them weren't interested in reading, period, at least not reading the stuff I assigned. But I had my list of required state objectives and I did my dutiful best to shove them down the throats of my captives. And over my years of classroom teaching there were a few like-minded sorts--okay, weirdos--who joined hands with me and willingly, even enthusiastically, went along for whatever literary journey we were on at the time. But I must admit the majority of my students were just watching the clock until it was time for lunch or cheerleading squad or football practice.

It's been quite a while since I did any classroom teaching. I only lasted three years at the secondary level. Then it was back to school for my master's degree in, what else, literature. Two more years of quibbling over minutiae no one else in his right mind cares about. But I enjoyed it, and it enabled me to get adjunct teaching work at the college level. Phew. Much better hours and no discipline issues.

The only teaching I am doing these days is of my own children. When my son entered his freshman year, we started following the typical four year high school literature sequence:

1) Ninth grade - Introduction to Literature (emphasis on genres and literary techniques)
2) Tenth grade - World Literature
3) Eleventh grade - American Literature
4) Twelfth grade - British Literature

My daughter, although she is three years younger, is herself quite the wordsmith so has gone right along with us and, truth be told, enjoyed it a lot more than her brother.

But here's the thing. All that stuff I learned how to do in college and grad school--all that bookish fussiness--I just can't seem to get motivated to do it with my own kids. Somehow with my own kids it seems enough to just tell them to read something and then to sit down for a little while and talk about it. Our conversations go something like this:

"So, what did you think of (fill in the blank)?"

"Oh, you didn't like that? Why not?"

"It sort of reminded me of (fill in the blank)."

"Boy, what a stupid world view. Do we have to read any more of his stuff?"

And so on.

I'm not saying we never talk about things like imagery, symbolism, irony, metaphor, and the like. They come up when the discussion leads to them. But when I think back to all that close reading I made my classroom students do, I have to wonder why? What was the point, if they weren't going to be writers or literature majors?

More and more, I think the way we teach literature in school is an impediment to true appreciation. We make kids hate it because we suck all the life out of it. The problem is, the way it should be taught--"Go and read this, and when you come back, we'll discuss it"--doesn't fit the paradigm. Number one, most of them won't read it. Number two, there's no way to quantify the teaching and measure the results in a way that would please the educational establishment. "We read thus-and-so and talked about it" does not lead to darkening in any of the little holes on the state list of required learning outcomes.

I don't think I will ever go back into the classroom. I suppose I should not say never. But after the experience of having students who actually read what has been assigned without the constant threat of a pop quiz, I don't know if I could stomach the classroom experience. In truth, my children have spoiled me irreparably. I used to spend hours reading and rereading and coming up with discussion questions and activities and assignments. If I didn't, there would be nothing to fill the class time. But more and more I think the class time IS the reading, and everything else is gravy.

On the other hand, maybe I'm lazy no-good excuse of a homeschooling mom and I need to get off my duff and go write some vocabulary lists. What do you think?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Holy, Holy, Holy

It was a magnificent celebration of Trinity Sunday at my church this morning. You can read a little more about the service here. The high point for me musically was the final stanza of "Voices Raised To You We Offer" with congregation, choir, organ, brass and timpani. The sanctuary was truly bursting with song! But the high point personally happened during the Hymn of the Day, "Holy, Holy, Holy." Evan, my youngest, is reading pretty well for a six-year-old, but hymn singing can pose a challenge: there are so very many words, after all, and some of them are beyond the average first grader's vocabulary. So my husband and I typically try to help him follow along by pointing at the text as we sing it. We don't press the issue or make a law out of it: if his mind wanders or the words are particularly abstract or complicated, he is allowed to listen for a while. Then when the concepts become more concrete and the images more vivid such that he can latch on to them more easily, we gently tap him on the shoulder and invite him to start singing with us again.

Today during the singing of "Holy, Holy, Holy"--a hymn that is pretty high up on the child-friendly meter--I felt Evan's hand on mine. I had apparently fallen down on the job and he was reminding me of my parental duty. He guided my hand to the hymnal and looked up expectantly, as if to say, "Well? Aren't you going to point at the words for me?" I obliged, and he commenced singing with gusto.

It was a moment that I will wrap up and store away in a hidden corner of my mommy heart, to be taken out and joyfully called to mind in future times. It was also a priceless reminder of the fact that, no less than they need us to point them to food, drink, clothing, and shelter, our children need us to point them to Word and Sacrament, to pure doctrine purely taught and preached, and to worship that is faithful to that doctrine.

May we as parents always do all that we can to enable our children's song, and when we fail, as we shall, may we rejoice in the certainty that God our Heavenly Father does not, as He eternally points us, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to His Precious and Holy Only Son.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Back in Time

I think this may be why my husband married me, or at least why I initially caught his eye. I reminded him of his childhood pet, a cocker spaniel named Ginger. (Do you see the resemblance?)

Rest in peace, Ging. I wish I could have met you.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

First Piano Recital

I know. I'm his mother, head over heels in love with him. But this is one of the cutest things I've ever seen. I guess I'm doubly proud since I'm not just his mommy but his piano teacher as well.

I had planned to have him play only two songs, but he decided that he wanted to play four. The prerequisite was that they had to be memorized. As you can see, he obliged.

I told him he only needed to bow at the end of all the songs but that between them, while people were clapping, he should smile. As you will also see, he took that advice very much to heart.

Make sure you watch to the end. You don't want to miss either the big finale or the grand bows.

First Piano Recital from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Monday, May 24, 2010

More on Lost

In his sermon yesterday, my pastor talked about how Christianity is the only religion that hinges upon God coming down to man rather than man reaching up to God. In light of that truth, I was struck by this observation in one of the columns that I read today about the Lost season finale:

"Despite the overwhelming presence of symbols from a variety of religious traditions and time periods, Lost was never about transcending the human realm in order to become divine. Lost's religious dimensions reflect a persistent, almost maniacal desire to be human . . . .

"Our heroes are not on a quest to get to paradise or return to the Garden of Eden. In fact, it is just the opposite. They are in paradise, but paradise has not turned out to be what we thought it was." (Bradley B. Onishi for The Huffington Post)

I don't think we should overplay the Christian symbolism in the show. It is not an apology for Christianity. But the Christian narrative is certainly there, strongly, from start to finish. And as Gene Veith observes, the Christian doctrines of sin, sacrifice, suffering, repentance and forgiveness are in the end what makes it all hang together:

"The story was resolved by a sacrifice (which these other religions don’t believe in), by forgiveness (Locke forgiving Ben for murdering him), by reconciliation, in a church (which these other religions don’t have), ending in Heaven (which these other religions don’t believe in)." (Dr. Veith in the comments thread on his post "They Once Were Lost and Now Are Found").

Farewell to Lost

My take on the Lost finale: incredibly moving and emotionally satisfying. Are all my questions answered? No. But in the end I realize that the reason I stuck with this show was not the plot, which was so twisty-turny that I had a hard time keeping up with it (and year-long breaks didn't help!). The reason I kept watching, from the very beginning, was the people, who were utterly riveting and made me care about them deeply. Hats off to the writing and acting that brought that about.

I find it interesting that within our own family there is a difference of opinion about What It All Means and that the dividing line is age-based. The young Lost watchers in our household have one idea, and the old folks have another. My theory about that is that the younger fans are not ready to Let Go of Lost quite yet, while us old fogies are.

Evan, who is 6, obviously never watched Lost with us. He didn't want to, but if he had I would not have let him. But considering that we have been watching Lost for most of his life, he heard us talk about it enough that he picked up on certain things. Last night he had two questions:
1) Did they defeat the Smoke Monster?
2) Did the dog survive?
I am very happy that I was able to answer in the affirmative for both. For Evan, Lost ended quite satisfactorily.

A cursory trip through cyberspace this morning reveals a lot of unhappiness among some Lost fans. It will be interesting to see how the Lost saga fares long term. It is certainly not the type of show that is going to enjoy a long career in reruns. You were either a part of the event, or you weren't. And I don't expect any Lost reunions or spinoffs or any such silliness, for obvious reasons. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if the show manages to keep its income stream going for a while longer with More Lost Mysteries Revealed type book and DVD sales. More power to them.

Bottom line: would I do it again? Would I give 6 years of my life to this show? Yes. In a heartbeat. It was absolutely worth it.

I'll leave you with a link to the blog of a friend who several years ago wrote about what Lost meant to her family. Although our situations are far from the same, I strongly relate to what she says about how Lost provided a escape hatch for her and her family through some difficult times. I think that is the best thing about Lost for me. It was one thing, besides church, that brought four out of five of us together in a shared passion on a regular basis. Considering that one of us is going off to college in a year, the passing of Lost may signify the passing of a time for us, too, that is too quickly slipping away.

I guess I have some Letting Go of my own to do.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Voice Recital

Caitlin and Trevor's solos from their voice recital Sunday. I know I'm their mother, but I must say, these are some talented kids. And voice is not the first "instrument" for either. I think both would agree that they are a a little bit more comfortable sitting and playing piano than they are standing and singing.

A standing ovation goes to their voice teacher, who knows and loves them not only as singers but as individuals and who couldn't have picked more perfect songs for them to sing on this, the spring "pops" recital.


"Somewhere" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

"The Kite" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Rebekah at the Concordian Sisters blog recently posted a letter she wrote to the editor of the LCMS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) publication The Reporter. Her letter (which may or may not find its way into print) was written in response to a recent article in The Reporter about the Women's Leadership Institute, an LCMS organization dedicated to providing women "opportunities to grow in the unique gifts of leadership and character that God gives to women for service to Christ, the Church, and the world." I think Rebekah rightly questions the goals of the WLI, and I encourage you to read her letter as well as the article that prompted it. While initially one might ask what could possibly be wrong with encouraging women to serve others, that misses the point, because the WLI seems not so much focused on serving as on leading.

Well, then, you might ask, what's so bad about that? What's wrong with women leading?

Again, on the face of it, nothing. In fact, I spend much of my day directing and leading people. I tell them when to wake up and when to go to bed, when to eat and when to wash dishes, what pages to read in their history book and when their essay is due. I decide what snacks they will find in the pantry and what they will have for supper. I determine what picture goes on which wall and who gets new shoes this month. But I don't think the WLI cares too much about that sort of leadership. I think instead that what they are most interested in is women leading large groups of people visibly and publicly. And the great risk is that in doing so they dismiss and devalue the lion's share of women's work, because most of it is hidden and humble, known by but incredibly important to only a cherished few.

One quotation from the article effectively summarizes most of what concerns me about the concept of a women's leadership organization in the church:

"[A participant in the WLI conference] said it was 'refreshing,' as a young person, 'to see that there's actually a need and a want for us in the church.' She said it was 'awesome to see other sisters in Christ who are so 'on fire' for the Lord,' and that her experience at the conference 'makes me want to go out and serve more, and lead more, and make more of a difference.'"

There is something seriously perplexing about a young churchgoing woman who has to attend a "leadership" conference to see that her church needs her. In my experience, most churches are hungry for volunteers. The need is great and the workers are few. Too often, it is the same few people doing most of a congregation's work. How, then, could someone find it surprising or "refreshing" to discover that she is needed? My guess is that the ways she wants to be needed may be different from the ways that she actually is. But true service is not a matter of cherry-picking the jobs that appeal to you or the ones that will build your self-esteem or bring you praise. True service is being willing to do that which is inconvenient and unappealing and tedious and dirty (kind of like being a mother, no?).

I'm not even going to touch the phrase about being "on fire for the Lord"--that is a whole other post--but I can't ignore the final reference to making "more of a difference." More of a difference than what? Implicit in that statement is the belief that the kind of service that requires "leadership" as it is defined by organizations like WLI is inherently more valuable than the sort of leadership I provide on a daily basis for the poor miserable sinners who share my roof.

Please understand: I have no problem with women leading in ways that are in accord with God's word. My husband's assistant cantor is a woman, and she contributes much to enabling the Lord's song in our congregation. But she is also a wife and mother, and I think she would agree that the service and leadership she provides at home by caring for her husband and baby girl are far, far more important than any of her singing or organ playing or choir directing. I have known many other women in the church who have served as teachers, school principals, board members, deaconesses, musicians, composers, editors, event coordinators, counselors, secretaries, and more. But you know what? None of them needed a leadership conference to tell her that there was a need for her gifts nor to convince her to share those gifts in service to God's people.

When you get right down to it, the establishment of a women's leadership organization within the church is a buying into the mindset that women have heretofore been kept down and that they need to be liberated from the patriarchy in order to truly fulfill their potential. It is at its core unbiblical. It is also--and I think this is what bothers me most of all--rooted in the Law. Because far from feeling liberated, when I contemplate participating in such an organization or attending one of its events I instead feel burdened. You mean to say that what I am doing right now is not enough? You want me to do MORE? And if I don't it means I'm not on "fire" for the Lord?

Note to WLI: I'm sure you mean well, but I think I'll pass. And now, if you'll excuse me, there's a certain 6-year-old little boy who needs and wants me to make a difference in his life by directing him to his bed and leading him in a story and a prayer.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stupid Housewife Thoughts

One of the questions being asked about Supreme Court Justice nominee Elena Kagan is whether or not she's a lesbian.

I don't care. If she's not making an issue of it, coming out militantly in favor of a gay rights' agenda, then in my opinion it's not worth talking about. A lot of public servants engage in behaviors that are against my personal moral code. For example, I daresay that many politicians whose views I agree with have committed the sin of fornication. I think that is wrong. But in today's culture it is common for people to not see anything wrong with it. So as much as I would like for all of my leaders to live a sexually pure and decent life, I don't think realistically that I have much hope of that. Therefore, if a person doesn't engage in a behavior publicly, flaunting and defending it as an "alternative" choice that is as legitimate as any other, and if the behavior doesn't compromise his ability to do his job, I am not going to lose sleep over it. We all sin daily and fall short of the glory of God in ways big and small. The question for me when it comes to a public figure is whether or not the sin is being committed in such a way that its consequences are foisted on those the public figure is called to serve.

Back to Elena Kagan. Interestingly enough, it is not the conservatives who are politically opposed to her that seem to be most obsessed with the question of her sexuality. It is, rather, her political allies and friends. Case in point: this column in The Washington Post, penned by Ruth Marcus, who identifies herself as a friend of Kagan's. The opening sentence of her column:

"She's not gay, okay?"

Marcus goes on to say that she wishes Kagan were gay because it would be of great benefit to the country to have an openly gay woman on the Supreme Court, but that she knows for a fact that such is not the case, and that the only reason people are talking about Kagan's sexual identity is because she is an older woman who has never married nor had children.

I appreciate Marcus' point. An "older" woman's lack of husband and children (I'm putting "older" in quotation marks because I don't think Kagan is much older than I!) should not be taken as reason to suspect that she is a lesbian! God does not call every woman to the vocation of wife and mother. But after arguing that we should not come to one conclusion about Kagan based upon her lack of a husband, Marcus goes on to promote another that I think is just as silly: in her opinion, Kagan is just too smart for marriage and motherhood.

I'm suddenly having a flashback to the 1970's, when the militant women's liberation movement was still raging and the argument was that there were two kinds of women: thinking types who went out and got a "real" job, and heads full of mush who opted to stay home and rear their children.

I thought we had gotten beyond that mindset. I guess not.

So Cate, Melody, Lora, Jane, Elephant's Child, Susan, and Rebekah, Reb. Mary and Gauntlets, I have some news for you: the only reason you have a husband and kids is that you're not very bright. If you had been smarter, those guys wouldn't have married you. And the fact that you are home caring for them and their children instead of out in the workforce means that you are even dumber than we suspected. (By the way, that list of links could have been longer. But my poor, feeble, little brain is tiring so I had better wrap up this post while I have some mental juice remaining).

Of course, I'm being ironic. The ladies to whose blogs I have linked are not only stay-at-home moms but are some of the smartest people I know. But here's a thought that is not meant to be ironic. Maybe Elena Kagan has never been married because she just hasn't found the right guy yet. Or maybe God has other plans for her (plans which I personally hope don't include being on the Supreme Court, but on that one I'm not holding my breath).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Thoughts

Seeing all the Mother's Day greetings on Facebook this morning got me thinking about the meaning of motherhood. What is a mother, anyway? The ideal mother, that icon of patience, virtue, gentleness and sacrificial love who is celebrated in the greeting cards and television commercials today is, of course, nonexistent. Every mother on the planet is nothing more than another wretched sinner in need of salvation. I know that as much as I personally try to be a good wife and mother, every night when I go to bed I have to acknowledge that the day is littered with my failures: my selfishness, my neglect of my loved ones, my bad-temperedness, my impatience, my ungratefulness, my resentment of the ways I am called to serve, my . . . well, you get the picture. Thanks be to God that I don't have to approach sleep burdened by my sinfulness but that, looking to the Cross, I can close my eyes with a clear conscience, knowing that Jesus died for my sins, too--yes, even those.

And yet, even as I acknowledge my own shortcomings and those of my fellow mothers, I must also admit that there are countless women who by the grace of God model many of those characteristic maternal qualities that we honor this day. The thing is, not all of them are mothers. For reasons that are known only to our Heavenly Father, they were not called to the vocation of motherhood through either biology or the choice to be an adoptive or foster parent. Nevertheless, in their generosity of service and affection, they exemplify the ethic of motherhood. Likewise, there are women who are technically mothers but who fail their children in such far-reaching and irreversibly destructive ways--through abortion and abuse and manipulation and willful neglect--that one wonders how they can even be called "Mother."

Today I would like to call to mind a few women I have known who have modeled motherhood for me. Some of them have had their own children; some of them have not. But whether they had children or not, each allowed herself to be used by God for the purpose of mothering the people in her life, and I have been blessed to see the consequences.

I think today of . . .

Aunt Lou, my godmother. She did not have children of her own. Older sister to my father, she was like a grandmother to me, whose grandparents were distant and largely unknown. Her visits always meant lemon meringue pies (which I never had the heart to tell her I didn't much like), eating together around the table (which we rarely did when I was growing up), and praying before eating (which we also never did). Aunt Lou was joyful and irrepressible, and she loved her "dear ones" deeply and unrestrainedly. May she rest in peace.

My friend Phyllis, wife of my pastor, and quiet and humble servant of our congregation. She and Pastor do not have children, but they are godparents to many, including my youngest, Evan. Evan delights in his "Auntie Phyllis" because he senses how much she loves and delights in him. We may not have any extended family in our congregation or even in the area, but Pastor and Phyllis make us feel as though we do.

My cousin Kimberly, whose troubled young mother took her own life when Kimberly was but 8 or 9 years old. Yet Kimberly by the grace of God has managed to turn that horrible tragedy in her life into a reason not to doubt and repudiate the power of love but rather to pursue and welcome it. She is one of the most affectionate, cheerful, loving and life-embracing people I have ever known. And she is one of the few relatives I have who takes an active interest in my own children, championing them and their accomplishments with a mother's passion. Kimberly may have lost her mother far too soon and may not be a mother herself, but she understands motherhood, and she understands the value of family.

I think today of several of my sisters who did not have the strongest foundation for starting out in life and who too young found themselves mothers. From them I learned that no matter the circumstances, a baby is a blessing and a gift, to be received with joy, loved unconditionally and cared for and nurtured no matter what sacrifices one must make to do so.

I think today of the ladies who have stood in as caregivers for my own children, particularly of Kay and Ina, who have children of their own but who when they have cared for mine have treated them as their own, loving, teaching and disciplining them with a mother's heart.

I think today of the many women I have known both up close and at a distance who have taught me that the most important calling a mother has is to raise her children in the fear and love of God.

And I think of my own mother, who herself was not mothered well and who also became a mother before she was ready. She has nine children, seven of whom are still living and two who went to heaven before they were born. She did not have strong parenting help from either of her husbands, and she would be the first to admit that she, like all of us, has sometimes failed in her vocation. But her love for her children, her willingness to work and sacrifice to provide for them, her honesty, her humility, and her deeply held desire for her children to be happy and have the best in life, have never been in question. You know those mothers who lord over their children and try to control them, who expect them to behave in a certain way and who punish them when they don't, and who insist on being the center of attention in the family, getting angry when they are not? You know the kind of woman I'm talking about--the one who will never let you hear the end of it if you forget that today is Mother's Day. Well, my mother is the polar opposite of that woman. She expects little and appreciates what comes her way. Today I would like to thank her for all she has given me and try to impress upon her that it is okay now to be done with giving and to simply receive. To need someone to help and care for you is nothing to be ashamed of, and in fact, what God wants most for each of us is that we might simply acknowledge our dependence on Him and receive the gift of forgiveness and love He offers.

So to my own mom, and to all other mothers who are reading this, I would like to say: you have nothing to prove, nothing to accomplish, nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. Your sins have been paid for. Your failures have been erased. You don't need the forgiveness of the sinners you bore. The only forgiveness you need is that of your Lord, and you already have that, have had it for all time. Jesus loves you as your parents couldn't, as your husbands couldn't, as your friends couldn't, and as your children can't. He loves you, finally, as you cannot love yourself. His love is more than enough, and it comes to you new every day, never to run out. Receive it, and be glad. You are His beloved child, and that is all that matters.

Mother's Day Haul

Yesterday I took Trevor to a tournament and enjoyed some uninterrupted reading and computer time while he played chess. When we arrived home last night I was instructed to close my eyes and was led by the entire family to the kitchen table, where this lovely display awaited:

Wow! There were beautiful flowers, Les Petits Ecoliers cookies (with extra dark--70%-- chocolate), a variety box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates, a shipping confirmation for a copy of Luther's Day By Day We Magnify Thee (it will arrive in a few days), and a necklace from Coldwater Creek (one of my favorite stores). Talk about being gifted! And then there was the card, which couldn't have been more perfect. On the front is a happy pink mommy mouse in bathrobe and slippers holding a coffee cup--yep, that would be me--and the following words:

"Mom, there is only one thing standing between you and a completely rejuvenating, relaxing Mother's Day . . . ."

(open card)


The inside of the card depicts three happy mouse children, one pink and two blue (I have one daughter and two sons). Perfect! Of course, while Mother's Day might be quieter without my mice scampering all around, it would be dreadfully lonely. Not just Mother's Day, but every day, is made complete by the presence of these souls that God has seen fit to share with me for a little while. It is hard to believe that there will come a day that I will wake up to drink my morning coffee and will go to bed that night having passed the entire day without seeing their faces or hearing their voices.

But I don't want to think about that right now. Right now I just want to soak in today. Thank you to my three mice and to their helper, Mr. Mouse, for making me feel so loved. I am blessed among women!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

More Pirates

A short video (47 seconds) of Caitlin singing as one of "The Daughters" in The Pirates of Penzance. In the chorus line shot she is fourth from the left, but the first girl is mostly hidden, so Caitlin is the third girl from left that you can actually see. In the final pose at the end of the song, she is the second from left.

Don't they sound great on this song?

Pirates of Penzance from Cheryl on Vimeo.

The Pirates of Penzance

Caitlin modeling her two costumes for this weekend's musical. Thanks to my friends who helped put these outfits together, including Chocolot, who lent the nightgown, and Elephant's Child, who sewed the skirt and sleep bonnet for us. (Wow, EC, that's the second time I have linked to you in as many days. Are you feeling important?)

A third friend from my church choir lent the blouse, but she doesn't have a blog so I will just have to give her a shout out: Thanks, Judy!

Friday, May 7, 2010

A "Because I Need to Post" Post

Elephant's Child says going too long between posts can lead to spammers. And here it's been almost a week since I blogged! Where has the time gone?

Well, let's see. We had a Confirmation service, and a party, and I rehearsed and played for three school concerts while keeping all the usual stuff going. No wonder posting has suffered. But I don't want to encourage those nasty spammers! So this is what you call a spam-prevention post--the quickest, easiest thing I could come up with heading into a weekend that includes one offspring performing in The Pirates of Penzance and another participating in a weekend-consuming chess tournament.

Yesterday on Facebook I mentioned re-reading a few parts of Moby Dick in preparation for discussing my son and daughter's literature reading. (We are doing a survey of American literature and are up to Melville in the book.)

I never read Moby Dick until I was a graduate student in literature and was required to do so. But I was glad I did. It was a hard read, but a good one. And yesterday as I revisited a few chapters, I toyed with the idea of revisiting the whole book, wondering what my enhanced years might enable me to gain from a second round with old Crooked Jaw. I don't know if I'll do it or not. But when I mentioned on FB that I might, a few friends stepped in to try to save me from myself: "Don't do it!" they cried. "Life is too short to read a book just because you think you should!"

I assured them I would only read it because I wanted to, not because I should. But that got me to thinking about other books (I'm talking big, fat ones) I have tried to read because I thought I should but have given up on because I just wasn't enjoying the experience. A few that come to mind:

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings
War and Peace
Anna Karenina
Atlas Shrugged (Notice that this one is in my sidebar as "reading now"--I started it in January. I am no longer reading it.)

Then there are the books I started reading because I thought I "should" but kept on reading because I enjoyed them so much:

The Brothers Karamazov
The Grapes of Wrath
The Fountainhead (I wonder why this one so thorougly sucked me in but Atlas Shrugged leaves me cold?)

So how about you? What are the books you tried to read not because they were assigned but because they were recommended to you or because you just thought you should? And of those, which ones did you stick with because they were such great reads, and which ones made you wonder whether you even know how to read?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Did He or Didn't He? - Words, Continued

President Obama used an "f" word at the White House Correspondents' Dinner Saturday night. It is not clear which "f" word he used. But it matters little to me, because what is clear is that the President's utterance was an attempt to allude humorously to the Vice-President's recent four letter "f" word gaffe.

Does anyone else find it inappropriate for a sitting President to be making light of obscene language? Is it not one of the President's duties to comport himself as a gentleman, not only for the sake of upholding the dignity of his office but also for the sake of modeling desirable behavior for the country's youth?

Wasn't there a time that it was considered scandalous for a President to use foul language, even when it was never intended to be heard in a public forum?

How times have changed.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Sometimes as a homeschooling mom I worry about the things my children might miss out on by not attending a traditional school. Other times I am reminded of the things I am glad they are missing out on.

Case in point. My 6-year-old, Evan, attended two years of half-day preschool at our church. He enjoyed it and so did I. (I am not good at playing with preschoolers. So sue me.) Evan is highly extroverted and also thrived on the daily interaction with other children. But the experience was not without its drawbacks. Evan was not a model preschool student. Evan is also a highly opinionated and expressive child (okay, okay--bossy), traits which on more than one occasion led to frustration (okay, okay, major meltdowns) on his part because people weren't doing things The Right Way.

We got through it. We were blessed with small classes and patient and loving teachers. In truth, it wasn't that bad. Before Evan, I was spoiled. My first two children were a classroom teacher's dream: introverted, quiet and obedient to the extreme, and content to be left alone in their own world. They have been almost abnormally "good" and easy children to parent. With Evan I have for the first time experienced what it is like to see the teacher coming your way and not know whether the news is good or bad.

Evan may not be in school anymore, but his classroom days are not over. He attends Sunday School every week, and that, too, has been a struggle at times. My husband and I try to drop in on his class frequently to give the teacher moral support and see how Evan is doing. Last week there was only one teacher (there are usually three) so I decided to stay for the entire session. The experience left me once again feeling vindicated in our decision to homeschool. There is no way I would want to subject either Evan or us to the struggle that would ensue if he were in school.

First off, please understand I am not criticizing the teacher. I don't teach Sunday School. She does. That makes her a hero in my eyes. My point is not to criticize the teacher but to illustrate the limitations of the classroom setting, limitations that would turn into daily frustrations for my child and me.

One of the primary characteristics of traditional school is the schedule. Since we're all doing the same thing, we all have to stay on the same schedule (especially when there's only one teacher). When it's time to move on from one activity, everyone has to move on together. Several times last week I witnessed Evan's vexation at being told it was time to stop what he was doing and start doing something else. He wasn't finished yet! Because I was there I was able to help him through the transition, but had I not been there it would have likely been much sturm and drang.

Another thing I observed was Evan's finishing a project and strongly desiring for his teacher to look at it. She was too busy (understandably so!), and he had to settle for receiving affirmation from me instead. I did my best.

As class was wrapping up, the teacher asked Evan to help out by picking up some pencils. I was walking around picking up things, too, and overheard a couple of Evan's classmates planning an ambush: when Evan came by their desk, they would throw handfuls of cotton balls at him. No big deal, right? They're just cotton balls. Another kid would probably laugh and throw the cotton balls right back. Not my kid. If I had not been there to intervene we would have no doubt had a major incident. I know from experience and talking to Evan's teachers that Evan is often selected for teasing because he never fails to put on a good show. You want to create a major eruption? Evan is your best bet.

None of this is meant to fault the teacher or the other children. They are all functioning the best they can within the parameters of the classroom setting. But for me and my kid those parameters are not acceptable on a day in, day out basis. By the end of the week we would be even more exhausted than we are now.

There are advantages and disadvantages to any method of schooling. Each family must decide for itself how those ultimately add up. I know there are things that my home educated children will miss out on. But we have decided, at least for now, that the positive things they will be deprived of are outnumbered by the negative things they will be spared, and that the benefits of being at home far outweigh the drawbacks.