". . . 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?