". . . little shall I grace my cause

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

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

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

Monday, November 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.