". . . 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)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011

It has been a lovely Christmas Eve and Day! Yesterday morning started with King's College Lessons and Carols (see previous post). Then my husband and I went to our community rec center to work out and stopped for coffee on the way home. Mid-afternoon he left for a marathon of leading music for Christmas services at church. This year he had to not only direct choirs and musicians but play organ for all the services as all of our backup organists are otherwise occupied (either out of town or late with child). There were three services Christmas Eve and one Christmas morning. Evan sang with the children's choir at the 5:00 service yesterday so of course we all went to that one. Although the kids and I didn't have musical duties at the 7:15 Lessons and Carols service we stayed for it (it is not to be missed), eating leftovers from home in the staff workroom between services. Then we took Evan home and tucked him in, leaving him with his grandma while Trevor, Caitlin and I returned for the 11:00 candlelight communion at which the adult choir was singing. I think we all got to sleep by about 1:30 a.m. (after Santa made his appearance).

This morning was Divine Service at 9:00. Unfortunately just as the choir was about to launch into "O Magnum Mysterium" for the voluntary Caitlin went running from the sanctuary sick. Yes, I do mean sick. I took her home and luckily we have not had a repeat incident or any fever, so I don't think it's a stomach virus. She has rested most of the day but did feel well enough to open presents. :-D

Here are a few pictures from the present opening:

What could it be?

Some new pieces for our china pattern! I received a vegetable bowl, small platter, 3-tiered server, coffee server, and several small bowls. Wow! A few more pieces and after 25 years or marriage my china set may finally be complete! :-D

A new mp3 player!

A cookbook from one of my husband's favorite restaurants.

From some dear friends: Caitlin got a Lutheran Chick water bottle and I got a travel coffee mug. The same friends also thrilled us with Worldview Everlasting t-shirts for everyone in the family!

Spongebob wear from Evan's aunt. Have I ever told you how much we love Spongebob?

Shiloh got her own edible card.

You can't go wrong with Dr. Seuss! Evan added several to his collection.



After present opening I put our Christmas ham in the oven and enjoyed a little computer time while getting some therapy from my new Shiatsu massager, pictured above. Supper was ham, collard greens and crab-stuffed deviled eggs. Plan for the rest of the evening is to watch the Simpsons Christmas and an episode or two of Trevor's new Third Rock from the Sun DVD set (given by yours truly). On the other hand, maybe I'll just go to bed (I passed on a nap today). Such wonderful, glorious freedom to choose--doesn't get much better than this. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Listening

While the secular culture's celebration of Christmas is coming to an end (it will be over on December 26), that of liturgical Christians has not yet begun. For us Christmas starts on December 24 and continues until Epiphany. For years now our family has kicked off our own Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve morning by listening to the live broadcast of the King's College Chapel Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The service begins at 3:00 p.m. Cambridge time, which means 9:00 a.m. central standard time. So every Christmas Eve morning we make sure everyone is awake, coffee is poured and breakfast set out, and we gather in our pajamas around the radio (or these days, the computer), and listen. It has become our tradition, and I can think of no better way for us to begin our meditation on the miracle of Christ's birth than by gathering together in quietness, listening to His Word, and being blessed by some of the most beautiful music one could ever imagine. Once the King's College Lessons and Carols service is over, the day becomes hectic, with last minute Christmas preparations and many services to attend (if you are a regular reader you know that my husband is a Lutheran cantor and the rest of us are part of his musical army). But from 9:00-10:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve, our family sits together and soaks it in in a way we won't get to at our own church (because we are rarely all sitting together at one time). It helps us keep Christmas in perspective.

If you have never listened to the King's College Lessons and Carols service, I invite you to do so with us this year. Here are some links to help you out:

Here's an article written by Michael Barone that describes his experience of attending the actual event last year. It's like a rock concert. People start lining up on the afternoon of December 23 in hopes of making it through the front door of the chapel.

And finally, here's an article by Jonathan Willcocks, son of Sir David Willcocks, long-time former musical director at King's College, about his memories of singing in the choir when he was a child (the choir is composed only of men and boy sopranos). I love his reminiscences of getting in trouble for having wax ball fights (even King's College boys will be boys!) and of how the soloist for the opening of the service was chosen:

Even the boy who was chosen (usually at the very last moment) to sing the solo first verse of the carol “Once in Royal David’s city” would not be especially anxious; it would just be another solo alongside many that he would have sung in the regular services in the chapel.

The parents of that boy soloist who would be the ones suffering the agonies of anxiety. I was in the somewhat unusual situation of having my father, Sir David Willcocks, as Musical Director of the choir. Again, it didn’t at the time seem awkward to me. Perhaps fortunately I was one of the “also-rans” rather than a star solo voice and so the dilemma of whether to choose me to sing the solo at the Christmas Eve service never arose.

After you listen to the Lessons and Carols broadcast tomorrow, you will be ready for more Christmas music, right? And while most broadcast stations will be winding down, discontinuing their Christmas music offering on the morning of December 26, there is a radio station that knows that Christmas is only just beginning! Watch below for more information.

I would like to wish all of you a most blessed and peaceful Christmas celebration. Thank you for reading. May God be with you today and always, in your trials and in your joys, assuring you of His forgiveness and all-consuming love.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I have been blessed to have been quite healthy during my life. Oh, I have had my share of issues. Severe seasonal and environmental allergies. Recurrent iritis. A lifetime of fighting cystic acne. Jaw and TMJ problems. Some swallowing and GI issues. Bad feet. But modern medicine has provided tools for dealing with all of these maladies, and for that I am extremely thankful. I know that compared to the health challenges faced by many, my problems are mere annoyances. Yes, there have been times when they have challenged my quality of life. But none of them are life threatening or truly debilitating.

This past week a new annoyance came knocking on my door: back pain. There have been times in my life I have had a little bit of back pain, particularly after a marathon session of practicing piano. I was diagnosed with mild scoliosis many years ago, and I'm sure that that combined with my flat feet doesn't help things. But last week was the first time the back pain came and stayed for so long. And not only did my back hurt, but so did my neck, shoulder, arm, hand, hip, and knee, all on the left side of my body. I kept waking up every day expecting things to get better as they always have in the past but each day brought not relief but more of the same. It wasn't awful pain, but it was nagging and constant and hard to ignore. And after a week I was very, very tired of it.

So, what to do? Several friends whose opinions I respect suggested a chiropractor. So did my husband. But having never been to a chiropractor before and having been advised that chiropractic approaches vary greatly and therefore it is important to research and ask a lot of questions before choosing a doctor, I found myself defaulting to the family doctor, at least as a starting place. I called and to my surprise discovered that the family practice we have long patronized has recently added a new M.D. who is also a D.O. (doctor of osteopathy). To my further surprise and good fortune I was told that the D.O. happened to have an appointment that day due to a cancellation. I saw her and for the first time in my life was told that not only do I have scoliosis, but my left leg is shorter than my right. So maybe that's why the whole left side of my body has been hurting . . . .

My new doctor prescribed a course of Prednisone along with Relafen for pain and scheduled me to go back next week for a "manipulation" (in chiropractic parlance, an adjustment). She said that I would need that time to get to the point that I would be able to stand having her work on my back. When she touched my back during my visit it was so sensitive I could hardly tolerate it. There are probably 30 or more years worth of knots in that baby.

What amazes me about this whole experience is the relief that came within 24 hours of my doctor visit. I have not even gotten any hands-on treatment yet, but the medication alone has helped immmensely. I don't think I realized until the pain went away how much it was coloring my outlook. Now that it has substantially subsided I realize how uncomfortable I was. I think I was hurting more than I knew. My husband says I have a high pain tolerance and that for me to complain and actually go to a doctor was telling.

Having gone through a week of pretty constant hurting rather than off-and-on type hurting, I wonder at people who have truly serious, chronic pain. I can't imagine what it must be like. I was exhausted by my one week of minor pain; how must it be to face not a week but months and years of pain that is far worse?

I hope to not find out. Yesterday I renewed our expired membership at our local recreational center's fitness club. I am renewing my commitment to exercise and increase my strength, starting with my back and shoulders and arms. There are certain things I cannot control or change when it comes to my body, but there are other things I can, and exercise is one of them. Maybe this time I will see it through better than I have in the past. Now in addition to all the other good arguments for exercising that I have always known to be true, I have discovered another one: avoidance of worse and future pain. Talk about a motivator.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rudolph and Bullying

Recently a new children's book came out entitled No More Bullies at the North Pole. You can read more about it here. It is a politically correct revision of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer story (as it was told in the old television special) that is currently receiving a lot of well-deserved ridicule. If you do a web search for "Rudolph" and "bullying" you will find all kinds of stories on the topic, both pro and con.

I do not think that children's stories are appropriate vehicles for the advancing of political agendas, and the things that I have read about this updated Rudolph make me roll my eyes in exasperation. At the same time, I seem to have a different take on this story than many of my online friends. I have always been bothered by the unkindness and bullying that are a part of the old Rudolph television story, going all the way back to when I watched the program as a child. I remember being horrified at Rudolph's treatment at the hands (hooves?) not only of the other young reindeer but also of the reindeer flying instructor, of Santa, and even of his own father, Donner. After Rudolph is born and his nose first lights up, Donner expresses deep shame and embarrassment at his new offspring and quickly fashions a covering of mud that makes it hard for Rudolph to talk and breathe. When Santa visits and sees the nose, he chastises Donner for having such an offspring and applauds Donner's efforts to keep the nose a secret. And when Rudolph goes to school, the teacher is the one who leads the other young reindeer in ostracizing Rudolph. The grownups in Rudolph's life, who ought to be helping and supporting and protecting and defending him, set the example for how others should mistreat him. Even Santa!

In the articles I have read on this story it is usually pointed out that Rudolph overcomes his bullying and that is what makes it ultimately a positive story. But the fact is that none of those responsible for mistreating him have any second thoughts about their behavior until it becomes clear that Rudolph might be useful to them. Then they change. I'm not sure if that counts as true remorse.
Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that people should not let their children watch Rudolph or that they should go out and buy the new, politically correct version. Maybe I am oversensitive because I was severely bullied as a child. But I think the old Rudolph includes a level of bullying behavior that is rather shocking for a children's story. Not just the other "children" but Rudolph's teacher, father, and even Santa (who is always the one who is supposed to make everything right in secular Christmas stories) are terribly cruel to him. No wonder the poor little dude ran away.

UPDATE: More discussion of this topic (including further opining by Yours Truly) here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Santa Claus Dilemma

We are a Santa Claus family. In the same way that my husband and I did when we were growing up, our own children wake up on Christmas morning to find goodies in their stockings and gifts under the tree that weren't there the night before. Over the years I have struggled a little with whether it was wise to carry on the Santa Claus tradition. Some people say that to do so is in effect lying to your children and that it sets them up to doubt other things you tell them. It is also argued that Santa Claus takes attention away from the true reason for Christmas, the birth of Christ. I have pondered these arguments and have worried that maybe they are true. At the same time, as I look at how we rear our children, I see a house in which Jesus is spoken of and taught and looked to as the one true Lord every single day of the year, whereas Santa Claus is an annual blip on the horizon. We don't pray to Santa, we don't talk about him day in and day out, we don't worship him in church, and we don't look to him as the source of all that is true and right and good. Furthermore, because of my inability to look my children in the eye and lie to them about things like flying reindeer and the breaching of the space-time continuum, I have never done so. And yet gifts have appeared and we have passively allowed that they came from Santa Claus. Which, really, they did, right? From Santa Mom and Santa Dad? Sigh. It's a cop-out, I know.

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas, upon whom Santa Claus is based, and who was a real person in the early days of the Church. You can read more about him here. I have friends who observe the Feast of St. Nicholas apart from Christmas and who even do the gift-giving today rather than on Christmas. I like that. If I had it to do all over again, maybe I would have proposed to my husband that we start a new family tradition and downplay Santa Claus while making more of St. Nicholas. But when I had my first baby almost 20 years ago I was not even aware of this day in the church calendar and the ways that one might observe it. Even if I had been, I honestly don't know that we would have done anything different. Like most people, I strongly identify with the traditions I learned as a child and find it hard to give them up.

Evan, my youngest, has embraced the Santa Claus myth with greater passion than either of my two older children. In spite of the fact that we have previously told him that one person can't do all that Santa supposedly does and that there are really many Santa's and Santa helpers, he at 8 years of age is still holding fast to the Santa story. Earlier this year when he told me what he wanted for his birthday he started to mention one item but then backed off from it, saying that no, he would put that on his Christmas list because while we couldn't afford it Santa certainly could. I decided right then and there that we needed to make sure and get him precisely THAT gift for his birthday because we wanted the best gift coming from us, not Santa!

Today in observance of St. Nicholas Day we read together the true story of St. Nicholas and I looked Evan in the eye and told him that Santa Claus is based on the real person of St. Nicholas, who died many years ago but who because of what he did and stood for has inspired others to carry on his example of giving, especially at Christmastime. Evan looked right back at me and without hesitation said, "But there's one thing I still don't understand, Mom. How do the reindeer fly?"

Sigh. There's always next year, right?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

They Grow Up So Fast. Or Not.

My 8-year-old, Evan, has long needed a light on in his room to go to sleep. Not merely a night light, but an actual light. We haven't made an issue of it but have allowed him to keep a small lamp turned on when he goes to bed. If someone happens to still be up when Evan falls asleep that person turns his light off at that time, but Evan is such a night owl that he is often the last person to fall asleep, so often his lamp stays on all night. I figure if it helps him to feel safe and doesn't impede his sleeping, what's the harm?

This morning Evan announced with pride that he had gone to sleep without any light last night. I was impressed. This was utterly at his discretion with no suggestion from us. I congratulated him on his achievement and he responded, "Yeah, I'm getting to be a bigger boy" and I, of course, agreed. A little while later when he was getting his clothes on I noticed something odd about his hair. One portion of his bangs looked a little shorter than the rest but I attributed it to his haircut this past week--I usually cut his hair myself but in the interest of time got his cut when my daughter and I went to the stylist for ours. I figured the barber must have made a small cutting error that I hadn't previously noticed.

Um, no. As I was fingering his hair, Evan proudly informed me, "That part was bothering me so I cut it." After impressing upon him the pitfalls of cutting his own hair and my desire that he never do that again, it occurred to me to wonder where that hair ended up. In the sink drain, perhaps? I asked.

"In the vent." That would be, in case you're wondering, the heating/cooling floor vent in his room. Of course. That's where we always put things we want to get rid of, right?

Check your vents, everyone. And remember, "responsibility" and "maturity" are entirely relative terms.

(P.S. If you know Evan in real life, let's just keep this post between the two of us, okay?)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"A Most Thankful Collage"

"Today is Thanksgiving Day. A lot of people have said a lot of things about today and what it means, and honestly, I don't have much to add. The problem with talking about the meaning of things is that you can get tangled up in your own words. I may be a writer, but words still have a way of tripping me up and turning me around. The thing is, words are flawed, just like everything else.

"I think life is summed up best, not in big words, but small moments. . . . "

So begins my daughter. You are invited to read the rest here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Life Abundant

That's what my husband calls it when life is so full you can hardly think straight. He's got the right attitude. Life has been full this week, but so very good. Just a short catch-up post for those with inquiring minds who aren't in my other "loops."

Trevor is coming home tomorrow! We were informed of a bus service, Megabus, that runs a route from Omaha to Chicago. A Lincoln area friend of ours will get Trevor to the bus tonight and he will sleep (we hope) while he travels. We'll pick him up in downtown Chicago at 6:50 in the morning. This homefront is beside itself with anticipation. The only bad part is that he will have to go back on Sunday for about three more weeks. Four days at home is not enough time when we have not had him here since August.

We installed our new pastor! If you have been out of the country and are unaware, he is Rev. Jonathan Fisk. The installation service can be viewed here. The first piece of music you hear for preservice (a piano arrangement of the tune HYFRYDOL) is played by my talented daughter. That's my husband directing the choir and playing organ for most of the service. The organ prelude and first hymn were played by Pastor Fisk's father Dale, a fellow church musican. We are overjoyed to have the Fisks in our midst and are enjoying the flowering of new friendships and the promise of reaching more people with the Gospel in our little part of Chicagoland.

Caitlin and I finished painting the dining room and it looks wonderful (see previous post). Had hoped to get the kitchen done before Thanksgiving, but alas--right now I will do well to handle the cleaning and cooking for Thanksgiving. The rest will have to wait.

Phillip has finished his year of traveling. Since January of this year he has been to Minnesota (twice), St. Louis (four times), Nebraska (three times), Alabama, Montreal, Ontario, Congo, Florida, Texas, Colorado, and Springfield (twice). Sometimes I didn't know whether he was coming or going. Next year promises to be much quieter on the traveling front. We are looking forward to having Dad around the house a little more.

Evan sang with the children's choir at church for the first time Sunday. We still have to work a little bit on the attention span, but it was a triumph for him. The first time we mentioned his singing with the children's choir he panicked. I think I previously shared here that he had much anxiety about it, which surprised us considering the family he is in. But then we thought maybe the anxiety was because of the family he is in! The happy ending is that he conquered those fears and told us yesterday morning, "I'm starting to like choir." Yay!

Oh, and how could I forget--I got Issues, Etc. Blog of the Week this past Friday. It was for the "Maternal Overreach" post. Thanks for the raw material, Evan sweetie!

And with that, I must get back to cleaning and cooking. A blessed and happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Maternal Overreach

It seems to be a week for sharing Evan stories.

A few nights ago we were driving home after eating dinner out together, just the two of us (everyone else was out of town), and he piped up from the back seat:

"Mom, when I grow up, I want to help people."

Ah, be still, my proud mommy heart. "Why, Evan, what a nice thought. Helping people is a great goal. What would you like to do to help people?" I'm thinking maybe doctor, fireman, Roto-Rooter man . . . .

"I'd like to help people who are lost."

Even better! I go in for the kill.

"That's really cool, Evan! You know, the people who are most lost are the ones who don't know about Jesus. Maybe when you grow up you could help people find Jesus, like Pastor does."

Silence. Then, "Mom, I don't understand you. I meant like if they get lost in the forest, I would help them find their way out."


Can't blame a Lutheran mom for trying!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Raisin' 'em Right

"Mom, if Calvin lived next door to us I would have a few choice words for him about girls."

"Really, Evan? What would you tell him?"

"I would tell him that girls are not slimy and they're good and I would not be in his club. And if he didn't believe me I would wrestle him to the ground and punch him."

"What do you think about girls, Evan?"

"I think they're not slimy and I think they're beautiful and I love them. Do you know what Calvin thinks girls are good for?"

"What, Evan?"

"He thinks they're good for nothing and for throwing water balloons at."

"And what do you think girls are good for, Evan?"

"For smooching and loving and hugging. And for having babies and taking care of them."

(Ahem. Dad, I think this one may need "the talk" a little earlier than the others.)

"Evan, who is your favorite girl to smooch and love and hug?"


I love this kid.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Beyond His Years

Last night we had my youngest child's 8th birthday party. His birthday was actually last week, but we couldn't work it out to get together with friends until this weekend. We invited two families to join us at a nearby bowling alley for arcade fun, bowling, pizza and cake. My kid is the one with the goofy smile.

Last night on the way home in the car--it was just me and Evan because Dad and sister were in another car--Evan's joy was palpable. I am reminded of that old song, "My Cup Runneth Over." Evan's cup was definitely pouring out all over the back seat. He kept telling me how much he loved me and what a great day he had had and at one point said, "I'm happy I'm alive." I told him that he had many blessings and a thankful heart and he agreed.

Last night when it was time to go to bed we "snuggled" together for a long time. Suddenly Evan turned serious and mused aloud, "I guess I'll be too big for the children's museum soon." I told him of course he wouldn't--that there are adults going to the children's museum all the time. Then he stated, "I miss my younger days." I told him I did, too, a little. He responded: "But we can't reverse the days."

No, Evan, we can't.

"We can't time travel."

No, Evan, we can't time travel.

I asked him what he missed and he said he missed some of his old toys and sitting on my lap and his preschool class (even though we homeschool our children Evan went to the half day preschool at our church for a couple of years). I told him he could still sit on my lap and he said, "Yeah, but pretty soon I'll be too big to fit." Then he started to cry: "I miss Mrs. Bolt [his preschool teacher, who died several years ago from breast cancer]. And I miss Grandmother and Granddad. And I miss Trevor [his brother, who is away at college right now]." The sobs became loud and furious.

I hugged and comforted him, of course, and once he calmed down we talked. I told him I understood his sadness because the passing of time is a hard thing to accept, but we have no choice but to do so. God made him to grow and to some day grow up, and that is what he is going to do. I told him that parents are sad sometimes to see their babies grow up but that at the same time they are overjoyed to see all the wonderful things that come with those babies growing up and that I was so excited to see where life would be taking him. He took all this in and then said, "Some people don't have children."

"No, Evan, some people don't."

"That's sad."

"Yes, that's sad. But some people have a different calling. Not everyone gets married."

"But some people get married and still don't have children."

"That's right. For reasons we don't understand, God does not send children to all married people. It might be that He has other plans for them--other things that He wants them to do." I gave him the example of a faithful Lutheran couple in his life that do not have biological children but that have many, many people that they serve and care for in other ways, including spiritually. And then I told him that there are seasons of life--that there is a time for having babies and a time for not having babies. He looked up at me questioningly:

"We're not going to have another baby."

"No, we're not going to have another baby. Right now Dad's and my job is to take care of the babies we already have."

At that point the conversation took a different turn--I think it may have been to tell me about the Sponge Bob episode he watched earlier--and I instructed my newly minted 8-year-old to get his pajamas on and brush his teeth. We met in his room a little while later for bedtime story and prayers and I pulled out a family favorite: Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. I couldn't remember if I had ever read it to Evan. If I had, it had been a long time ago and he didn't remember either.

We started to read the book and already on the very first singing of the "Love You Forever" poem on the first page I started to choke up. But we forged ahead. I told Evan to keep his eye out for the kitty in the story, which is on every page until the boy in the story grows up and moves away from home, at which point that first kitty is nowhere to be found but a brand new baby kitten can be seen at the now grown up man's new house. Evan had fun looking for the kitty but I could tell he was taking the book very seriously. As we neared the end--the page where the man visits his old, sick mother and holds her on his lap--I wondered to myself, "Oh dear, what have I done? What was I thinking in pulling out this book?" I offered to put the book away and told Evan we could finish it another time. Amidst his tears, he said no. He wanted to read to the end.

I think that to the extent that an 8-year-old is able, he understood the book. He understood that some day that old lady with gray hair and glasses will be me and he will be the grown-up man who holds his elderly mother on his lap and sings her the "Love You Forever" song before going home to sing it again to his newborn baby girl. After we finished reading, tears streaming down both our faces, I told Evan that this book is about the passing of time and how we grieve the things we leave behind but how we pass those things on to our children, and our children pass them on to their children, and how it goes on forever and ever until the end of time. The book does not come from a Christian viewpoint, but I reminded Evan that the love that gets passed down through generations started with Jesus and will end with Jesus when we join Him in heaven.

With watery eyes, Evan looked at me. "That's a sad book, Mom."

"Yes, Evan, but it's a happy book, too."

"Yes, it's sad and happy. It's almost got too much sadness and happiness to take."

Welcome to the rest of your life, Evan.

He went to the shelf to get another book.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I recently received an email from a friend inviting me to join Google Plus and be in one of her "circles." (For those who may not be aware, Google Plus, or Google+, is Google's version of Facebook.)

I love the lady who sent me the invite and if anyone could get me to join Google+ she could. But although I have been hearing about Google+ for a while I have so far resisted joining and have no plans to change my mind. I have a feeling if I were to join Google+ I would find myself just getting more of what I already get on Facebook:

1) More time spent in cyberspace instead of real life

2) More interacting with the same people I already interact with on Facebook (most of whom are lovely, but hey, there's a limit to how much loveliness I can fit in between all the normal stuff of daily life)

3) More opportunities to witness passive-aggressive, bullying, mean and clique-ish behavior by people who seem to time-warp back to junior high whenever they log into their account. No, wait, I take that back. My teenagers never behaved the way I see some people behaving on Facebook.

4) More opportunities to read someone's "vaguebooking" and scratch my head and say "Huh?"

5) More off-color jokes, weird and scary pictures, profanity, vulgarity, and pointless quizzes and games.

6) More opportunities to experience personal rejection in the form of getting unfriended and blocked by people I really shouldn't even care about.

7) More opportunities to grapple with the dilemma of who my "friends" are and to what extent I can keep up with their lives

Don't get me wrong--there are some very good things about social media. I wouldn't be on Facebook otherwise. But there is a lot of ickiness, too, and more ickiness is one thing I do not need in my life. So I'll see you here and I'll see you on Facebook and I'll maybe even see you in real life. But unless all of my close friends completely disappear from Facebook, Google+ will continue to be a minus in my social accounting book.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Last Week

Sick child.


Furniture moving and painting.

Husband out of town.

Practicing for upcoming gig.

'nough said.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Evan Goes to Children's Choir

Evan joined the after school children's choir (Schola Cantorum) a few weeks ago. It was a momentous occasion, not only because children's choir is a new experience for him, but because he was extremely nervous about the prospect. Oddly enough, my extroverted child who has no fear of playing for a piano recital had a lot of fears about being in children's choir. He was worried that he wouldn't know people. He was worried that he wouldn't know what to do. It was little comfort to him that his father is the director of the choir and his mother the accompanist or that he would be assigned a choir "buddy" to assist him as he learned. During the weeks leading up to his first rehearsal, he had several crying spells. Realizing that he was sincerely panicked about the prospect and not just trying to be difficult, we told him that he could start by observing and would not have to join until he was ready.

By week two he was ready. :-) Below are a few photos I took, not at his second rehearsal, but at his third. As you can see, he has totally bought in to the concept now. (The kid that loves to show off on the piano is still a little worried about having to wear a choir robe and having the congregation look at him when the choir sings. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. I find it odd that he is so shy about singing for the congregation. But then I think perhaps it is a reflection of the seriousness with which he approaches the liturgy, and that is kind of cool.)

Evan is in navy, center of front row. And by the way, this was a low attendance week. Our children's choir numbers seem to wax and wane over the years, and we are in a slightly lower year, but this is not the full group.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Random Thought of the Day

Last Sunday I watched some of the dedication ceremony for the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. I found it discouraging to see several of the speakers focus their remarks not on remembering Dr. King and his life and vision but on rehashing tired racial and class warfare tropes. Now don't get me wrong: I believe there is still racism. But I believe it is rare in this country and is something that cannot be addressed by political or governmental means. Racism is no longer an institutional phenomenon; this country has addressed it to the extent I think we legally and politically can; and I think the fact that we have elected a black President from one major party and have another black man leading the polls as a candidate for the other major party speaks volumes about how far we have come as a nation. And yet I think there are people who have so long defined themselves in terms of their minority status that they don't know how to stop doing so. It's almost as though if they acknowledge that things are getting better they will lose their purpose and identity. Furthermore, if they acknowledge that the thing they once agitated for has been achieved, their status as an injured group--and the power that comes with that status--becomes questionable.

It occurs to me that individuals sometimes do the same thing that aggrieved groups do, clinging to their injured status even when circumstances have changed to the point that they could let it go, and that they sometimes do so for the very same reason: because giving it up would mean they would not only lose some of the power associated with that status--because there often is power in weakness--but would also mean they would have to learn new ways of looking at themselves and interacting with the world, something that is hard to do when you have for so long operated within a certain framework.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Weekend Update

Because I can't think of anything else to write right now. Or more accurately, because the other things that I can think of to write require more time and brain exertion than I can currently allocate.

My husband is on a plane for Texas today. He will be picking up his deceased parents' dining room set from his sister, who has had it for several years, and bringing it back here to live in our house indefinitely. It will be a welcome change. Right now our dining room "set" is an odd assortment of mismatched garage sale pieces, including a table that no longer has any matching chairs (we are currently using folding chairs around it). My in-laws' set consists of a table with six chairs, a china cabinet, a small buffet, and a large buffet. I'll have to take before and after pictures and post them here.

I have lost track of how many times my husband has come and gone from our house the past few months, and he's not finished yet. This weekend it's Texas. Next weekend he's doing some church consulting in Colorado. After that he'll be providing music for a Doxology pastors' retreat, followed by presenting at a church music conference in Ontario. The guy gets around.

Tonight I will be attending the advance commitment dinner for our church's capital campaign to build a new wing for music and youth. Our keynote speaker will be none other than our new pastor, Rev. Jonathan Fisk. It promises to be a grand evening. The only thing that would make it better is if I had my date here to go with me.

I'm trying to get myself revved up to do some painting and staining. Our back sliding glass door, installed last year during a major home repair, is wood and has yet to be stained and varnished. It needs to be done and I think I can do it myself, but I keep putting it off. And then there's the dining room. Seems that the time to paint it is before you move the new furniture in, right? But then I would have to choose a color. And shop for paint. And move the current furniture out of the way. And actually do the painting, all before Monday night . . . .

Today was a beautiful day. We need more of these before winter sets in. We have SO much yard work to get done but it is very hard to find days that aren't filled up with other things.

Speaking of days, we are counting them until our college freshman will be home for Thanksgiving. Haven't seen him since Labor Day.

It seems like it has been a very long time since I have not had some part of my body hurting with an ache or pain. I know I need to exercise. But it seems there is always something more pressing to do. Like write a weekend update blog post.

Our home school studies are going well. I will have to write a separate post on that topic soon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Psalm 29

Last Sunday our adult choir at church sang this through-composed choral setting of Psalm 29, entitled "The Voice of the Lord," by contemporary composer Jonathan Kohrs. The piece was published by Liturgy Solutions and is available here. It has quickly become a favorite of our choir and congregation. The text of Psalm 29 is powerfully painted by the choir part and the piano accompaniment (featuring yours truly). The piece itself is not as hard as it sounds--it is challenging primarily in the rhythmic demands it makes due to changes in meter and shifts between a duple and triple feeling in the choir part. And it is long, but the minimalist/repetitive nature of the piece means there is not nearly as much music to learn as it might seem.

Our choir has sung this piece several times and I think this year we nailed it! I hope you will listen and be edified by "The Voice of the Lord."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Love Letter for My Daughter

In recent years as my daughter has turned into a young lady, people occasionally mistake us for one another (usually it's if they see me from behind or at a distance, not close up!). Caitlin and I are about the same size (although I think she has now barely passed me up in height) and we can share shoes and some of the same clothes. We both have rather full faces and lips and wavy hair. I take it as a compliment when people tell me we look alike because my daughter is absolutely gorgeous.

We also share some other similarities. Caitlin is a word girl like me. She is a reader, writer and musician. She thinks deeply. She is a little clumsy and not terribly athletic. She doesn't have a very good sense of direction (sorry honey--wish you had taken after your father in that area).

But in many ways my daughter and I are very different and as I consider those differences I find that the things about her that sometimes "challenge" me are also the things that I most admire about her. Here are a few examples.

My daughter is a dreamer. Her mind wanders easily but when it wanders it is often because she is pondering huge, profound and pivotal questions. She cares about the Big Ideas of life and she values truth, goodness and beauty. She is not only a musician and writer but also an artist. She is creative in a way that I am not. She can think outside the box and imagine something where there was nothing. I need people and events to write about; in her writing she creates not just people and events but whole worlds!

My daughter is not particularly task-oriented. She is easily distracted. But I wish sometimes I were more easily distracted. She takes time, if you will pardon the cliche, to smell the roses. And play with the bugs. And dig in the mud. And wish upon stars.

My daughter is not afraid to get her hands dirty. She does not avoid things because they might make a mess. Sometimes I wish she would notice and address the mess a little more than she does. ;-) But I could learn from her that life is meant to be lived, not cleaned and organized and put away.

My daughter is comfortable in her own skin. She is not a clothes horse or fashion maven or shopaholic. Actually, neither am I. But I admire that she worries little about appearances, hers or anyone else's, knowing that what makes people who they are is not what's on the outside, but what's on the inside.

My daughter is one of the most kindhearted and compassionate souls I have ever known. She is also highly moral and concerned with living a life of integrity. Sometimes the preceding two characteristics cause her to worry to excess, a trait I suppose she did get from me. Sorry about that one, too, honey.

And finally, my daughter is someone who is passionate about her passions and who pursues them passionately. :-) (By the way, she gets that from her father.) She doesn't walk through the house (how boring): she bounces, runs, and skips! Sometimes in the midst of it all certain things get overlooked or forgotten. Or broken. :-D But it is only because her heart is busy dreaming and her brain working and her soul embracing all that life has to offer. The overlooking and forgetting and breaking are things that she is working on. But you know what? If I had to make a choice, I would rather have a daughter who tramples a few plants as she's making her way through the forest than one who can't see the forest for the trees.

I love you, Caitlin. Thank you for being the kind of daughter I always dreamed of and the kind of person I am honored to call friend. Oh, and happy 16th birthday! ♥

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Weekend Update

It has been a week. Last Saturday my mom, who lives with us, was taken by ambulance to the ER with severe rectal bleeding. It turned out to be a diverticular bleed, for which we are thankful (this is a less serious condition than some other things it could have been), but the hospital stay extended to five nights because the amount of blood lost made my mom quite weak and necessitated a blood transfusion. She is now home. Unfortunately the timing of this incident made it necessary for me to cancel a weekend getaway to Nebraska with a group of my fellow Lutheran homeschool moms. I am very sad about that but am telling myself various things to ease the pain, such as--

1) I will be way more refreshed than they will be on Monday morning and will have marked several new items off my task list by that time.
2) There are about 20 people at this retreat and I am an introvert. It would have been an emotionally as well as physically exhausting time.
3) I'm not having to spend over 20 hours in the car.
4) I know am blessed, even though it often doesn't seem like it to me, to be able to care for my mom. (See Blessings, Inconvenient.)

(Of course, I would have gladly given up all of these benefits to get to go. But humor me. It makes me feel better to think about it in this way.)

So here I am. But I am not alone. I am also blessed to have my youngest son and daughter home this weekend, as well as my daughter's best friend, and we are planning a few fun activities together: a trip to the local independent bookstore followed by treats at the ice cream shop, and maybe a movie. Meanwhile my husband is coincidentally off to Nebraska himself to visit our oldest son at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where they will be attending the Nebraska-Ohio game today (Go Big Red)! That very wonderful husband offered to cancel his own Nebraska trip to stay home with my mom so I could go on my getaway, but he has not seen our son since Trevor left for college in August. So I said thanks, but no thanks.

Speaking of Trevor, he is thriving in his first year of college beyond my wildest dreams. I am not surprised that the academics are going well. But as his mother I had many worries about how he would handle things on his own that he has never had to handle before. Things that seem pretty basic, such as ordering a choir tux online or taking your pants to a tailor to be hemmed, can be rather challenging if you have never had to do them before. But he is doing great, not only with the life stuff but with the academic as well. He is majoring in music and has already risen to the top echelon of his piano teacher's studio, getting invited (as a freshman) to play for piano departmental recital and a visiting pianist's master class, and this coming week, competing in several competitions. That last item will necessitate a new life skill, too: riding a city bus (Trevor does not have a car and the competition is at a different school). But I am worrying less and less about his ability to handle these new experiences. I know he will figure them out. It helps that he has kept in very close contact with us all along the way. We talk on the phone every few days, which is just as helpful for us as it is for him, keeping us in the loop of his life. I am thankful he is sharing his days with us to the extent he is. It makes the separation much easier to take!

Trevor will be home for Thanksgiving, and by that time we will have had another extremely exciting development: the arrival of our new pastor! My church, which is a large suburban Chicago congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, has recently called a third pastor. Our three pastors will now be working together under a new ordering of their duties modeled on our church body's threefold emphasis: Witness, Mercy, and Life Together. As I understand it, our new pastor's emphasis will be Witness and will include work with missions, evangelism, and youth. If you want to see him in action, check out this video (the latest in a regular series that he puts out several times per week). In it he uses the occasion of his call to my church to do some general teaching about the Divine Call and then he goes on to do some Bible study on Romans 9. Watch. If this is your first time to meet Rev. Jonathan Fisk, you are in for a treat.

Sunshine, gorgeous fall weather, and cool & awesome kids await, so I am out of here for now to go enjoy some highly convenient blessings!

Monday, October 3, 2011


Before I can remember, the covenant was sealed
With Father, Son, and Spirit in water was revealed.
The cleansing was for certain, with water and the word;
His gentle words were spoken, in heaven they were heard.

They were singing water life, beginning life, water life, all my life
Water life, spirit life, water life.

A simple sweet beginning, a loving place to start:
Christ began the singing that swells within my heart.
His love became my calling, my life His ministry.
His name is my adoption into His family.

My hope and expectation for true community,
Begins with resurrection, His death and life in me.
His Spirit fills the body; His church through water sees
His promise for tomorrow, His water life in me.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Inconvenient Blessings

I'm guessing most of my readers are aware of Pat Robertson's comments on Alzheimer's disease a few weeks ago. He said that he would understand someone married to an Alzheimer's patient needing to seek out alternative companionship or even divorcing his spouse so as to marry someone else. When asked about the marital promise to remain faithful unto death, he responded by saying that Alzheimer's is a kind of death, in effect excusing the deserting or philandering spouse.

As one might expect, most of the ensuing discussion of Robertson's remarks has been negative, particularly among Christians. But it seems the condemnation of Robertson has centered on the harm done to the Alzheimer's patient and the repudiation of the promise made in marriage to remain with that person for life. I have seen little consideration of the harm that is done to the spouse who turns his or her back on the afflicted partner when frankly, that person suffers as much as or more than the one he turns his back on because through his actions he is impoverishing himself and his own heart and soul.

Several times over the past year I have had friends thank me for being a confidante to them in a time of struggle, praying for their needs or helping out in some more material way. Sometimes they have apologized for "bothering" me with their troubles. But in my experience, when the opportunity to help someone comes along and I actually take advantage of it (sinner that I am, I don't always do so), I benefit far more than the person I am supposedly helping. I pray and in so doing am brought closer to God. I offer encouraging words and the words come back in even greater measure. I offer a helping hand and am blessed by the experience. Even when the immediate situation seems messy or inconvenient or distasteful I know that God is using it for good and in the big picture of His plan I will be enriched.

I know I am not sharing anything revolutionary here (see Galatians 6). Paul says that we reap what we sow and instructs us to bear one another's burdens. But I think we can get so caught up in the sowing that we sometimes overlook the reaping. And the blessings come not just on the cosmic level, although I think that's part of it, but also on the immediate level in ways obvious and less so. The blessings are also not some sort of tit for tat--you did good so God is going to reward you--but rather a reflection of the way the world is. We don't live in bubbles, disconnected from one another. We are in this thing together. What goes around comes around. (See Donne, John, Meditation XVII)

Yes, when we sin, we sin against God and against others. But in so doing we inflict equal damage upon ourselves. By the same token, when we do good we bless ourselves as much as others. There is nothing new under the sun. Our words and deeds go out, bounce around in the world, and come right back to us. May they be of the sort that we are glad to see them headed back our way.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Be Careful What You Dream

Last week at a rehearsal of our parish children's choir, our associate cantor (filling in for my husband) was working with the children on singing vowels. At one point she instructed them to pretend to pick an apple off a tree, the plan being (I think) to have them "bite" their apples, resulting in wide, open mouths and lifted soft palates. But no sooner had everyone started reaching up arms to pick "fruit" from their "trees" than one conscientious young lady raised her hand and observed, "You're not supposed to do that. Picking apples is against the law. So is picking leaves."

Sigh. Having taken over the real world, political correctness has now moved on to our imaginations.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


This is Horla. She lives in Brazzaville-Congo, where my husband has recently spent over a week teaching liturgy and hymnody to French-speaking African Lutherans using the (relatively) new hymnal from the Lutheran Church in Canada: Liturgies et cantiques luthériens.

Horla was an attendee at the conference my husband led. She lives in the church/parsonage where the conference was held, having been taken in by the pastor when she was forced to leave her home (for reasons unknown). She earns her keep by helping out around the church and house, so at times she missed part of the conference. On the other hand, since she lives at the parsonage, she benefited from having greater access to the hymnals, which were kept at church when people went home for the night.

Towards the end of his time in Brazzaville, my husband was singing with a group of women and asked for requests. Horla selected "Humble et doux Jésus" which we know as "O Jesus So Sweet, O Jesus So Mild." This hymn was not taught during the conference; Horla had discovered it on her own. Phillip taught it to her in short order and then videotaped this conversation with her. At the end of the interview he prevails upon her to sing the hymn, even though, as you will observe, she is shy about doing so at first. I invite you to watch. I think you will agree that she does a beautiful job, as do the ladies who join in for later stanzas.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Michele, Not My Belle

Two posts in one day. It's either feast or famine around here. I started writing a Facebook status and realized what I really wanted to write was a blog post. You're welcome. (Or not, as the case may be.)

I have not decided whom I will vote for in the Republican primary. I do know that in the general election I will vote for the Republican nominee, whoever he or she is. If I believe anything at all, it's that we must repudiate the current President and his failed policies and that our only chance of doing that is uniting around the Republican challenger.

Of the frontrunners right now, I am leaning towards Rick Perry. He is not perfect, but I think his positives far outweigh his negatives. Of the second tier, I like Rick Santorum. But for whatever reason, I do not see him gaining enough of a following to be a contender for the nomination.

In recent years I have had a very high opinion of Michele Bachmann. I was glad to see her enter the race. But as I have watched her compete for the nomination, I have become less impressed. In the past week she has struck me as making mistakes born of desperation. Her Gardasil offensive on Perry has been completely over the top, as she has drawn vivid word pictures of an evil government forcing "injections" on "little 12-year-old girls." She has continued to hammer the point even though Perry has admitted he made a mistake in issuing an executive order (that was never enforced) mandating the vaccination in Texas. To his acknowledgment of error she has responded by saying that the President of the United States has to get it right the first time--that there are no "do-overs"--and she assures the country she will.

Really, Mrs. Bachmann? There is no room for error, at all, when you hold executive office? You don't expect that as President you would ever make a single mistake?

My guess is that she, like all of us, has made mistakes in the past and will probably make more in the future, President or not. And what scares me more than someone who might make a mistake is someone who will not admit it.

In fact, Mrs. Bachmann did make a mistake. After the CNN debate in which she went after Perry, Bachmann claimed that a woman came up to her thanking her for her remarks on Gardasil and claiming that her daughter had become mentally retarded as a result of the vaccination. That comment made its way into some of Bachmann's post-debate interviews, as there she continued to attack Perry on the issue. But since then there have been questions about the source of the claim and whether such a person actually made it. There have also been several high-profile repudiations of the claim that the vaccination has been shown to be dangerous and Bachmann has had to back away slightly from that claim. (What, Mrs. Bachmann? Do you mean to say that you didn't get it right the first time?) Ultimately, introducing vaccination fear--a different issue--into what started out as a legitimate criticism of the use of executive power has weakened her argument. But when Perry neutralized her attack by admitting his error I guess she thought she had to find a way to keep up the attack. How much better for her and the entire GOP field (and our 2012 chances) had she thanked him for taking the high road and gone on to do so herself.

The straw that broke this voter's back as far as Bachmann is concerned was seeing her on Facebook today attacking "Obamacare" in the same breath as "Perrycare." Excuse me? This is intellectually dishonest and shallow language. She is doing neither herself nor the cause (which is bigger than she is, after all) any favors with such an approach. She will not have my vote in this primary.

Life Update

*Sigh.* I am not the blogger I used to be. Almost a week without a post, and at this point I am little motivated to write anything that would require serious thought or wordsmithing. So instead you get an update post.

Yesterday was a week since Phillip left for Congo. I have received one Facebook message from him on a borrowed smartphone and two phone calls made on a borrowed cell phone. He arrived safely at his destination but took a cold (the same one I have) with him. A friend remarked, "Better to take something over there than bring something back here." She has a point. Other than the cold he seems to be doing okay. I was worried he might lose his voice, not a good thing when his reason for being there is to teach singing all day. But his voice is holding out, as is his stomach, and he is in good spirits. During one of his short calls he told me that there are many challenges to the work he is trying to do--there was no time for elaboration--but he was extremely upbeat about all that is being accomplished. He was on a particular high that morning because he and his class had just finished recording "Oh, Lord How Shall I Greet You" and his students were loving singing it. (A major part of the work consists of recording teaching tapes for use in the parishes of those who are attending the workshop.) He said it is very interesting to go back after a year and see how the things he taught last time have fared. Some have continued to be embraced, one or two has been set aside, and others have been slightly adjusted. :-)

As mentioned, I have had a cold, and that has severely impacted my ability to make the most of this week. I had plans for much higher levels of productivity but lost a good four days to the cold (it is a doozy). I sat in bed and watched the 9/11 observances and was alternately depressed and inspired. Both President Bush's and President Clinton's speech at the dedication of the Flight 93 memorial fell into the second category. I was impressed by the progress that has been made on the Ground Zero memorial. People say that ten years is too long--that we should have already slapped up another building by now. I disagree. We needed time to clean up, to grieve, to consider what to do. Anything worthwhile does not get done overnight. I think New York City should be commended for the memorial and the progress they have made on it. If you haven't familiarized yourself with it yet, you should do so. It is beautiful.

I started returning to some feeling of normalcy on Monday, so we did start school, sort of. I tend to be the kind of person who wants to wait until the house is clean and everything is in order before I can wrap my brain around intellectual pursuits. I decided if I waited for those things to happen before we started school we would be on vacation until January. Of 2015. So we started, amidst the chaos that continues to be my house. Caitlin and Evan are so far enjoying their extracurricular classes and activities. Bowling is supposed to start Monday after being postponed for one week to allow for more sign-ups. I'm hoping it doesn't get cancelled.

We had a voters' meeting at my church this week and there were two awesome outcomes. One, the voters approved some major repairs to our aging organ. Two, we approved the calling of a third pastor for youth. I am so-o-o-o-o excited about the person we have called and hoping and praying that soon he and his family will be joining our church family.

Today is full so I better run! Piano student this morning, haircut and orthodontist appointment for Caitlin (her braces are coming, Evan got his a few weeks ago), homeschool co-op, and tonight a little R&R. The plan is to make s'mores on the grill and watch Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Boy, these life update posts are much easier to write than social commentary. Maybe I should do more of them.

P.S. My daughter has closed her old blog and started a new one. It's worth checking out.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Ghost of 9/11 Past

Recently on Facebook I posted a link to a photo retrospective on the 9/11 attacks and made the comment that as painful as it is, we need to continue to remember that day. A good friend of mine said she worried that in all the remembrances and commemorations what we are doing is wallowing in our grief and that she thought those who lost their lives that day would want us to move on.

I understand what she's saying. Sometimes when I see the events of that day replayed on my television screen I think about those who are watching and taking pleasure in the suffering they caused. For them it was a great, victorious occasion and when we relive it perhaps we are feeding their celebrations. On the other hand, I think that we have no choice but to remember what happened and to teach future generations just as we have always taught about terrible things in history, as much as it hurts to do so. We don't turn a blind eye to slavery or war or the Holocaust. These things are facts and we have to face them and teach our children about them. And I guess what I can't figure out is how we remember painful events without revisiting the pain. With time and distance the pain is not so acute, but I think it will always be there. And I think it should be. If we get to the point that we can remember horrible events without feeling horror, I wonder if we're truly remembering.

Here are a couple of columns I recently read on this topic. Again, I can see both sides. Dr. Gene Veith writes about grief and outrage "fatigue" and 9/11 "exhaustion." He says he wishes we could move on. On the other side, Peggy Noonan says "We'll never get over it, nor should we."

What do you think? Can we remember that day without remembering the horror and grief of it? If we downplay those things, are we truly remembering? It occurs to me that in the 21st century our ability to relive past events is much more technologically advanced than it used to be. We have the capacity to replay the news footage from that day in a way that puts us right back in the midst of it in real time. We haven't always been able to do that, so maybe that is part of the dilemma here. We can relive, not merely remember, and maybe my friend is right that instead of remembering, we are wallowing. I don't know. But I do know that in spite of our ability to relive the events of that day I sometimes worry that we have not learned what we should have learned from them. And if that is the case, I suppose wall-to-wall week-long commemorations aren't going to make much difference.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Back to School, Part 3

This is the third of three installments in my "Back to School" series. This time around there is not much for me to say as I am no longer the teacher of this student. I am not even his advisor unless you're talking laundry and, oh, maybe a few other things. But I am still Mom and head cheerleader and always will be. So here is my first official post as a Nebraska Cornhusker cheerleader!

We moved Trevor into his dorm 2-1/2 weeks ago. On the Friday of move-in weekend, UNL hosted a full day of activities for new students. One of the goose-bumpiest moments was the Freshman Tunnel Walk, in which new students get to walk through the same tunnel the football team uses to take the field at Memorial Stadium before a home game.

Here's a video of the walk if you have a few minutes to kill. We were so excited when we were able to spot Trevor in the crowd.

A photo of Memorial Stadium lit up against the night sky.

We spent several days with Trevor, helping him move in and get to know campus a little better.

He is living in Neihardt Hall, the oldest dorm on campus and also the Honors dorm. (They are dorms--I refuse to call them residence halls as political correctness apparently dictates these days). Neihardt is divided into four wings, which as I understand it sometimes compete with one another à la the four houses of Hogwarts in Harry Potter. Neihardt is also rumored to be haunted, but several intrepid Daily Nebraskan reporters could find no such evidence a few years ago. Trevor will have to let us know if he experiences any of the strange phenomenae himself. :-)

Speaking of Trevor (that IS whom we are speaking of, right?), here he is, all moved in:

We were pleased with his room and his roommate (whom I unfortunately did not get a photo of--maybe next time).

Trevor is a music major, and his class schedule reflects that status: very heavy on music classes with just a few academic courses squeezed in around the edges. He is taking piano, organ, men's chorus, theory, introduction to music (a sort of music appreciation class with, I think, some introductory history thrown in), keyboard skills (higher level skills such as improvisation, transposition and open score reading for advanced pianists), English, and history. I think that is all this semester--I think that's enough, don't you?

One of Trevor's primary reasons for choosing to attend UNL was the piano professor with whom he will be studying. At the end of the first week of classes, Dr. Barnes hosted a party for his students. When I first saw this photo I was most impressed with how much fun everyone seems to be having! Dr. Barnes is seated at the far right.

This past weekend, after Trevor's first two weeks, I took Caitlin and Evan back to see him in his home away from home (they had never been there before). As far as we can tell, Trevor is doing wonderfully. He made it through the first round of laundry, his room was quite presentable, and he seems happy. This photo was taken in the home of my friend Lutheran Hen, who generously invited us to stay with her family during our visit.

We are missing Trevor so much around the house. It hits me in little ways, such as realizing there aren't as many socks in the sock basket, or that I don't need to buy so many bananas. It hits us all in a big way when we sit down to a meal and there are only four plates instead of five. But we are adjusting and taking great pleasure in the knowledge of what Trevor is getting to experience in this, his first semester of college. I have found myself transported back to the fun and wonder of my own college days . . .

. . . my own piano teacher . . .

. . . and a special young man I met that first magical year.

Trevor's dad is going to visit him next month. The rest of us will probably not be seeing him again until Thanksgiving. Seems like an awful long time from now. But it will be one of the most festive Thanksgiving celebrations I think we have ever had!

See you soon, Trevor. In the meantime, carpe diem! I know you will!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Back to Congo

Last year around this time my husband spent ten days in Congo teaching hymns and liturgy to French-speaking African Lutherans. He was invited to go there by Pastor James May of Lutherans in Africa. Pastor May was my husband's co-teacher and traveling companion and is also now a good friend.

It was a trip my husband will never forget. You can read much more about it under the listing for Congo here on my blog. Next week he will be returning for another round of teaching. As he did last time, he will also be delivering several boxes of Liturgies et cantiques luthériens for distribution to our fellow Lutherans there.

Last year when he did this I was quite nervous about the distance he was going to be traveling (21 hours of air travel to get there) as well as about his safety. That is still in the back of my mind, but I find myself right now thinking less of those things and much more of what it is going to be like when he arrives once again among his friends in Brazzaville. For they are most assuredly friends, and I can only try to imagine the joyful reunion that will be experienced by both my husband and the people he came so quickly to love and who came to love him. When he said goodbye last year he was presented with several articles of African clothing. One of the things he is looking forward to doing is taking back a picture of our family wearing the clothing we were given. Here is a photo of me, Caitlin and Phillip doing just that at a recent presentation on his trip that Phillip gave at our church.

Phillip will be leaving next week on Thursday. I would appreciate your prayers for his safety and well-being as well as for his work, that it might be a blessing to the Congolese Lutherans. I thought I would leave you with this video from his last trip. It is a drive through the streets of Brazzaville a day or two after his arrival. The other two people in the video are Pastor May and Pastor Mavoungu of the EELC (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Congo). You can get an idea from the video of the living conditions in Brazzaville. But what I am most struck by is the joy of these three men as they do the Lord's work. Shortly into the video they start singing. After a stanza or two of the song, Phillip interjects a comment. The comment is acknowledged, but notice what happens next. Instead of returning to conversing, Pastor Mavoungu picks back up on the next stanza of the song. He will not be distracted from singing! Phillip told me that this is typical: once his Congolese friends started a song or a hymn, whether in a formal (church) or informal setting, they did not stop until they sang the whole thing. We in our hurry-up, cram-it-in, cross-it-off-the-task-list lives could learn from those priorities.

If you would like to support Lutherans in Africa and specifically their efforts in Congo-Brazzaville, let me know and I will put you in touch with the right people.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Back to School, Part 2

Not long ago I wrote a back to school post outlining this year's plan for my 7-year-old. At the time I promised something similar for my 15-year-old sophomore. This is that post!

As I write this I am waiting for said 15-year-old, who is taking high school geometry at a homeschool co-op in our area. The co-op meets Monday and Friday at a local church. Monday is their academic program and Friday is their enrichment program. If we were so inclined we could sign up for a full contingent of academic classes but we prefer to do the rest at home. Students attend Monday and work independently the rest of the week, returning Friday if they desire for electives. Students who are taking advanced math, however, are required to return Friday for a math lab, so Caitlin will have geometry twice per week (which is a good thing, as math is not her strongest suit). The teacher seems to be highly qualified, having many years of experience teaching math at both the high school and college level, so I am optimistic about the outlook for the class. It is a small group and the teacher seems to be organized and readily available for email help (grades and communication are being managed through Engrade). The text is Glencoe.

For science we will stick with Apologia. I offered Caitlin the option of doing something different, but she likes Apologia and does not wish to change. She will be studying physical science this year. She has been accustomed to doing science with her brother for the last few years and he, of course, has left for college, so I hope we are able to maintain motivation. I will probably need to invest myself in studying more with her so I am glad she is doing physical science as I much prefer it to biology (which she took last year)!

For history we plan on doing some rapid review using the Short Lessons books. We'll start with world history and if we finish that move on to U.S. history. We had actually planned to do this over the summer but, well, you know how that goes. Our history study over the years has been very spread out so I am hoping this quick, broad sweep will provide a succinct overview on which we can build with some more in depth study in Caitlin's last two years of high school. We will supplement the Short Lessons text with some historical fiction and whatever else we can come up with, including several of Genevieve Foster's books.

Caitlin is an avid reader and excellent writer and has studied a good deal of high school literature alongside her brother the last four years. So strangely enough this English teacher has had a question mark hanging over her head when it comes to what to do with Caitlin for English this year. I toyed with the idea of just reading stuff we like and I think to some extent that is what we will do: read a book together and discuss it. But someone recommended a book to me that upon investigation seems to have a lot of potential: Philosophy & Literature: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Commitment. It is an older text that has recently made a comeback. I like the emphasis on reading literature as a means of meditating on the true and the good, and the table of contents is incredible. I doubt we will read the entire book but think there will be much of value that we can draw from it.

In addition to literature, Caitlin would like to spend a little more time on grammar, not because she needs it to became a good writer (she already is), but because with her interest in language she would like to better understand how English works. We did some grammar this summer but got bogged down with schedule demands so will be revisiting that goal. I'm thinking of using the latest rage in grammar study because of the author's fun and lighthearted approach. I'm an English teacher who loves grammar, but I am also the first to admit it's not the most exciting topic out there. The pleasure of grammar comes not so much from the learning of it but from the having learned it to the point that all the puzzle pieces start to fall into place. From what I've seen, Grammar Girl makes the learning part of the equation more fun.

Those are the big four: English, math, history and science. Last year we did some psychology, philosophy, geography and art history but have not exhausted the resources we have on those subjects so plan to return to all of them at various times during the year, most likely in rotation rather than all at once. In addition to her academics Caitlin will continue with Tae Kwon Do (she is now a brown belt), bowling, church choir, community choir, piano and voice lessons. As if all of that isn't enough, I have started thinking it might be nice to add a video component--something we can just sit back and watch and enjoy together without additional preparation and stress. I have always been interested in Francis Schaeffer's How Then Shall We Live video series and see now that it is available on DVD at a very reasonable price. So perhaps that is the ticket. (I must admit that part of me wants to watch it just to blow a raspberry at the liberals currently giving presidential candidate Michele Bachmann grief for speaking highly of Schaeffer.)

So there you have it: Philipp Nicolai Lutheran Academy's 2011-12 sophomore curriculum!